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Title: Barbara Winslow, Rebel
Author: Ellis, Beth
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Barbara Winslow, Rebel" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Illustration: Mistress Barbara Winslow]



                            *BARBARA WINSLOW
                                 REBEL*


                          *By ELIZABETH ELLIS*


                        ILLUSTRATED BY JOHN RAE



                                NEW YORK
                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                               PUBLISHERS



                          COPYRIGHT, 1906, BY
                          DODD, MEAD & COMPANY

                       _Published January, 1906_



                               *Preface*


Whether James, Duke of Monmouth, would have succeeded in his enterprise
had a different fortune attended his army at Sedgemoor, is a favourite
subject for speculation among historians and others who interest
themselves in the consideration of such strange chances as have not
infrequently led to the downfall of great hopes.  Certainly, had victory
attended the invader’s troops in their first battle, many waverers would
have thereby been drawn to his standard, and the ranks of his supporters
might have been swelled by that large class of politicians who measure
the righteousness of a cause by its success.

But it was not ordained that Monmouth should free England from the
abuses and injustice under which she struggled during the latter days of
the Stuart dynasty; not into the hands of such men as this are entrusted
the destinies of nations.  This slight man, torn by weak hopes, weak
fears, weak ambitions, small throughout his life, exceeding small and
pitiful in his death, was not the instrument to overthrow the power of
even so insecurely throned a monarch as James II. The history of the
world is the history of individuals, and proclaims in all its pages the
inexorable justice of God.  A cause may be righteous, its vitality may
be fanned by the devotion of thousands and watered by the heart’s blood
of heroes, but if the man in whom are centred the hopes of its
supporters be unworthy, if his life be undisciplined, his aims selfish,
his own faith weak, the glory of the struggle is clouded by the shadow
of his personality, and failure is preordained to wait upon the
enterprise.

James Monmouth, like his grandfather before him, like his cousin after
him, inspired in the hearts of his followers an enthusiastic devotion
that recked not of consequences, that gave all and asked nothing with
unquestioning loyalty.  In him his followers saw the man sent by Heaven
to protect their religion and to purify the government of their country,
the defender of their faith and freedom, and they were ready to lay down
their lives at his bidding.  But God, who reads the hearts of men, saw
in the pretender a man of petty vices, of pitiful ambitions, weak, and
selfish as the King he strove to dethrone, and though Monmouth offered
at the altar of destiny many hundreds of devoted hearts, God refused the
sacrifice and scattered his armies like the ashes of the offering of
Cain.

So Duke Monmouth failed.  The history of the world’s triumphs is the
history of individuals, but the world’s failures are written in blood
upon the hearts and lives of thousands; for though the reward of success
may be the glory of one man, the suffering of many is the penalty
demanded for failure.  Duke Monmouth failed and the story of this
abortive rebellion of the west is the story of the suffering of the
innocent for the sins of the guilty.  Many of those who prompted and led
the invasion escaped in safety, to win pardon later from William of
Orange and to live out their lives in peace and prosperity.  Monmouth
indeed died on the scaffold; but his worthless life was not to pay the
price of rebellion.  It was for the poor misguided peasants who had left
their homes to fight for a religion dearer to them than life and
happiness; it was for them, by cruel torture and death, or by weary
years of suffering in the Plantations, to expiate their misplaced trust
in a leader unworthy of the cause they cherished.

And where are we to look in this to find the infallible Justice that
regulates the chances of this life?

Not indeed in the fair west country given over to pillage and the sword,
her towns shambles, her countryside a waste of ruined crops and deserted
farms; not in the attendant heartbreak and despair are the workings of
justice transparent to our eyes.  But looking across the years that
followed is seen the reassuring ray of promise.  The sacrifice offered
at the hands of Monmouth was indeed rejected, but the sacrifice was not
therefore vain.  The wretched peasants had offered their lives for the
establishment of religion and truth, and the offering was accepted.
Their lives were indeed demanded of them on the battlefield, on the
scaffold, in the slave cabins of the Plantations—who shall say that they
did not receive their reward; and who, having regard to the wonderful
growth of religious tolerance, of justice and national honour in England
during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, will deny that the seeds
sown with blood and tears in that short-lived rebellion of the west have
blossomed in fadeless flowers? Here is a tale of two who threw in their
lot with those who followed Monmouth; not for love of the Duke, but
impelled thereto by an unexpected chain of circumstances.  Two whose
lives drifted together on the fierce tide of war and in whose hearts
love was awakened by hatred of tyranny.  It is a tale of dangers, of
sorrow and of suffering, yet of some merriment, of courage and of great
happiness withal, for she who inspired it was not one to let fear of the
future darken the present, or present suffering weaken the spirit to
endure. Rather she accepted whatsoever the Fates might send with a quiet
courage, laughing in the face of frowning fortune, and found among the
ashes of suffering and seeming desolation an exceeding great treasure.
If the memory of Barbara Winslow inspire any to face the monotony of
life with the same blithe courage with which she faced the horrors of
death, her story will not have been told in vain, but will prove a seed
bearing fruit in the life of a brave woman.



                            *ILLUSTRATIONS*


Mistress Barbara . . . . . . Frontispiece

"He Dropped the Point of His Rapier and Turned Away"

"Thus They Talked, These Two, Cut Off From All Their World"

"’Ah! Barbara, If You Know Mercy, Bid Me Not Leave You Now’"



                        *Barbara Winslow, Rebel*



                              *CHAPTER I*


"Truly, Sir Peter; ’tis a great honour you do me. Yet bethink you; if
every fugitive felt it a duty to offer his hand to each maid who had
favoured his escape, there would be busy doings in these troublous
times."

"Duty, Mistress Barbara, i’ faith!  ’Tis no thought of duty your
presence inspires."

There was an ominous glint in the speaker’s eyes which caused his
companion to interrupt him quickly with a nervous laugh.

"In that case, sir, ’twere best I should leave you; ’twere small good
urging upon you the duty of saving your life by instant departure, if my
presence play traitor to my words by bidding you stay.  So fare thee
well; I wish you a safe journey."

"Alas, madame, and will you indeed send me away without one word of
hope?  I will die an you do.  What is life to me without your favour?  I
entreat you, have pity."

Sir Peter’s protestations were eager, nay ardent, but they tripped too
glibly from his tongue, they smacked too much of experience in the art
of wooing and moved Mistress Barbara to naught save amusement.

"Nay, but listen to me, sir," she answered with mock solemnity.  "As you
well know, there are many who since the rising have been in hiding like
yourself.  For Rupert’s sake, I will give help and shelter to all who
need it, but it were too much to expect me to give to all such
unfortunates what now you seek.  Bethink you what complications might
arise hereafter."

"But, madame, ’tis possible all will not adore you as devotedly as do
I."

"’Twere scarcely worth my while to consider such a remote possibility,
sir," she answered demurely.  "Nor do I see reason why you should prove
an exception."

A man and a maid seated together on a bank of moss in the moonlight have
been seen oft in England; nor, if the maid were fair and not unwilling
to listen (and what maid ever refused?), was it ever matter for surprise
if the man has made wise use of the opportunities the Fates had given to
him to perfect a romantic harmony of time and place by pouring forth
protestations of undying devotion and of admiration for the incomparable
charms of his companion; for moonlight is in truth a marvellous loosener
of tongues; the greatest matchmaker of the universe is the pale witch
queen of the night.

But natural though the affair may at first sight appear, in the present
case it was attended by certain untoward circumstances which would have
rendered the conventional occupation of Sir Peter and the lady
productive of astonishment to an onlooker.

For it was but a week since the disastrous engagement at Sedgemoor where
Sir Peter had commanded one of the foot regiments in Monmouth’s
ill-fated army.  And though the ardour of his wooing for a time almost
led him to forget the fact, he was nevertheless a condemned rebel with a
price upon his head and little hope of life unless by some means he
could reach the coast and so compass his escape from the country.
Within a mile of where he sat there were those who were seeking high and
low to take his person, dead or alive; yet despite his danger he seemed
oblivious to everything beyond his immediate surroundings.  He devoted
himself to the wooing of his companion’s favour with the same passionate
assiduity which he had ever displayed in more peaceful days in the calm
precincts of Whitehall, or even in the perhaps less reputable regions of
Old Drury.

Three days after the rout at Sedgemoor, after experiencing the miseries
of starvation and despair which fall to the lot of a hunted man, Sir
Peter Dare had reached the village of Durford, hoping thence to escape
to the coast.  Driven by hunger and distress to desperate ventures, he
had presented himself at the Manor House, trusting to his ready tongue,
his handsome face and his large experience in the management of the sex
to gain the sympathy and assistance at least of the women of the
household.  He met with a welcome even more kindly than he had dared to
hope for.  Mistress Barbara Winslow had a tender heart for all rebels,
her own brother, Rupert, having also ridden with Monmouth, and being
himself even then in hiding, she knew not where.  Therefore, she and her
cousin Lady Cicely gave shelter to Sir Peter gladly, and for some days
he remained at the Manor House, lauding the Fates for directing him to
such a pleasant haven, and employing his time, having nought else to do,
in losing his heart to his fair hostess, who, being a woman, thought no
worse of him for his obvious admiration, which, to do her justice, she
considered but her due.

But not many days could the wanderer remain in safety at Durford.  The
country was closely patrolled by those searching every hole and corner
for fugitives from Monmouth’s army, and a small search party had their
headquarters in the village itself.  The Manor House was suspected, and
the Winslows could not hope longer to conceal the presence of their
guest, especially as their household consisted exclusively of
women—creatures of unquestioned loyalty but irresponsible tongues.

In the meantime, however, news had been received of a fishing vessel
lying off the coast, some three miles from Listoke, and with the help of
one Peter Drew, a smith by trade, and a devoted admirer of Mistress
Barbara, arrangements had been made with the skipper to take the
fugitive on board.

Four days, therefore, after his arrival, Sir Peter reluctantly bade
farewell to his hostess, and prepared to ride away once more upon his
wanderings.

But ere he started finally on his journey, Mistress Barbara, moved
either by the beauty of the evening, or by pity for his somewhat forlorn
condition, proposed to accompany him to the end of the narrow lane,
leading from the Manor House to the high road, and so set him on his
way.

Now at the side of this lane ran a mossy bank, and the night being warm,
and the moonlight inspiring, it befell that an hour after his departure
from the house, Sir Peter was still seated on the bank at the feet of
Mistress Barbara, oblivious alike to her repeated assertions that if he
would not depart she at least could remain no longer, and to her warning
that each moment’s delay meant additional danger.

Still they sat there, until Sir Peter, moved by the sweet tones of his
companion’s voice, by the gleam of her eyes in the moonlight, and by
gloomy reflections on their approaching separation, threw prudence to
the winds, and burst forth into desperate, and for the time being
heartfelt, protestations of devotion, mingled with entreaties that she
would at least give him hope of one day winning her favour.

But Mistress Barbara, though she had found satisfaction in Sir Peter’s
open admiration, was in no wise pleased at so serious a turn to the
conversation.  She shrewdly suspected that it was by no means the first
time such vows had passed his lips, and was consequently quite unmoved
by his despair; but this unexpected change from moonlight dreams in the
present to practical discussions of the future brought back her mind to
realities with a sudden shock.  She had no inclination to enter into a
serious discussion of the matter, so she put a sudden end to the affair
by springing to her feet and insisting upon her companion taking his
departure forthwith, lest he miss the tide.

Sir Peter, recognising that further pleading would be useless, heaved a
forlorn sigh, at which Mistress Barbara smiled under cover of the
darkness and they walked to the end of the lane in silence.  Here they
paused and Barbara gave her final directions.

"I can go with you no further.  I would we could have kept you with us
longer, but indeed it is not safe; they have traced you here and are
hunting high and low for you.  Your only hope is to cross the water.  I
have told you the road; two hours’ riding should bring you to the place.
Pray Heaven you fall not in with Captain Protheroe and his men.  But if
you do you should soon outstrip them, for their horses will be weary;
they have been out seeking you since daylight, though thanks to their
belief in their own intelligence they have sought diligently in the
wrong direction.  But they will come back to quarters presently and you
must be gone. Farewell, my friend, and a pleasant ride."

Sir Peter stooped to kiss her hand and mounted his horse reluctantly.

"Farewell, madame.  It were useless to try to thank you.  But at least I
shall hope for some future occasion of repaying my debt."

"I shall deem it well repaid if you can contrive to send me word of
Rupert’s safety," answered the girl with a sigh.  "That he will escape I
am assured; Rupert could never come to harm; but the waiting for news is
weary, and on some days hope is only a duty, not a consolation."

"See what it is to be a brother," exclaimed Sir Peter mournfully.  "You
care more for his little finger than you do for the offer of my heart."

"Well, sir, and is not the rarer commodity ever the more precious?" she
answered saucily.  "Rupert hath but two little fingers, whereas——"

"I have but one heart, madame."

"True, sir; but what limit to the times it may be offered?"

"Ah!  Mistress Barbara, you know naught of the matter, for you yourself
have no heart at all."

"And I marvel that you should still have one, considering how frequently
you have lost it."

"I vow——"

"Hush!"

The jingle of accoutrements sounded round the corner of the road, and at
the same moment they became aware of horses slowly approaching, a sound
which hitherto they had been too much engrossed in their conversation to
heed.

"Alack!  ’Tis the troopers," whispered Barbara. "Back, ere it be too
late."

But the time for escape had passed; for even as she spoke, and before
Sir Peter had fully grasped the situation, the troopers had rounded the
corner of the road, and were face to face with the fugitive.

They could scarcely be described as an imposing-looking force.  Since
daybreak they had been out scouring the country for rebels, beating the
woods, ransacking the barns, following a wild-goose chase after false
information extracted from the sullen country-folk, and were now
returning to the village, worn out, dejected, and mud-stained.  It would
have been difficult to find a more forlorn-looking crew, even among the
unfortunate men whom they hunted.

But at sight of the couple before them their dejection instantly
vanished.  The man’s rich dress, handsome still, despite its draggled
appearance, his presence on the road at this hour, and the horrified
exclamation of the girl, all tended to prove that this was the man whom
they sought.  With a quick exclamation, the leader sprang from his horse
and striding up to Sir Peter seized his horse’s bridle, crying sharply,
"I arrest you in the King’s name.  Surrender like a wise man, or take
the consequences."

Sir Peter reined his horse back abruptly, and glanced round at his
enemies with a muttered curse.  But in Mistress Barbara the danger only
roused a spirit of excitement and mischief.  She flung up her head and
laughed.

"Cock-a-doodle-do!  Who is afraid of you?" she sang saucily.

Captain Protheroe was somewhat discomfited by this unexpected answer.
He threw an angry glance in the direction of the girl, and otherwise
ignoring her presence, turned again to his prisoner.

"Come, sir, I ask you again, do you surrender, or must I order my men to
seize you?"

"And I repeat," remarked the girl again, "that you crow too loudly,
noble sir."

One of the troopers in the background laughed, and the captain turned
furiously on Barbara.

"Peace, wench," he began sharply.  But at that moment, when all eyes
were turned on the girl, Sir Peter dealt a furious blow in the captain’s
chest, driving him back against the bank, and at the same time wrenched
the reins from his grasp and dug his spurs into the horse’s flanks.  The
animal leaped forward suddenly, and before the men could recover from
the confusion and make a further move to stop him, the prisoner was
clear of the surrounding circle and galloping rapidly down the road,
while Mistress Barbara clapped her hands and laughed delightedly at
their discomfiture.

Captain Protheroe sprang to his feet in an instant, furious with rage,
but quickly realising that it would be vain with their wearied horses to
attempt to overtake the fugitive, he opened his lips to give the order
to fire, that the man might be stopped, dead or alive. But ere he could
speak the word, two arms were flung round his neck, and two soft hands
were pressed tightly over his lips, while again the girl’s mischievous
laugh rang in his ears.

For a moment the captain was too much astonished to move, then
astonishment gave place to anger.

Roughly seizing the girl’s wrists, he pulled away her hands and shouted
to the men to fire at once.  But it was already too late, the fugitive
was out of sight, and though several troopers presently set out in
pursuit, it was obvious that the hope of recapture was very slight,
seeing he rode a fresh horse, and the moon, already low in the sky,
promised soon to give the pursued the protection of darkness.

Then, balked of his prisoner, Captain Protheroe turned furiously upon
the cause of his failure.

"You hussy," he exclaimed harshly, "I will teach you——"

He stopped abruptly, for the girl’s hood had fallen back, and he found
himself gazing into the most wonderful eyes he had ever beheld.

Then a soft voice drawled in sympathetic tones, "’Deed, captain, hath he
really escaped thee?  How vastly annoying.  For, an I mistake not, the
orders were to take him at all costs, dead or alive, and now, being but
few miles from the coast, and being well mounted, ’tis very like he may
be altogether quit of the country by to-morrow morn.  I vow ’tis too
bad.  But sure, you are eager to pursue him, so I will no longer delay
you.  I wish you a very good even."

She dropped him a sedate curtsey and turned to walk back to the house.

But by this time Captain Protheroe had recovered from the effect of her
eyes.  He seized her roughly by the wrist and dragged her back.

"Not so fast, my girl.  I must have some information from you first
concerning this same rebel."

Barbara eyed him in grave astonishment.

"You are hurting my wrist," she complained reproachfully.

The captain dropped her wrist instantly, and she held it out to him
gravely, that he might see the red marks of his fingers on the white
flesh.

"Come," he began, somewhat abashed, "tell me but this: Was that Sir
Peter Dare who hath escaped us, and if so, where and how did you fall in
with him?"

"Indeed, sir," answered the girl demurely, "you are surely forgetful of
the place and hour.  Bethink you, ’tis scarce meet that I remain here
alone, parleying thus with strangers."

"Tut! girl," answered the captain, laughing, "that excuse will not
avail.  You thought it no shame ten minutes since to remain here
parleying with one man. There is safety in numbers."

"Ah!  That is a different matter, sir," she answered with a most
innocent glance.  "He was a gentleman."

"A gentleman!  Well!  What then?"

"Such do not mishandle women, sir," she said and pointed again
reproachfully to her injured wrist.

"Peste!" muttered the captain angrily.  In truth he was somewhat puzzled
as to whom the girl might be. She wore a rough scarlet cloak and hood
common to all the country maids, and he could not see her dress beneath.
Furthermore she spoke with a slight Somersetshire accent, and this,
together with her saucy manner, had at first led him to suppose her to
be merely a simple country wench.  But now the suspicion grew that she
was but masquerading in the part.

The only thing of which he felt certain was that she had the sweetest
voice and the most bewitching dimple in the corner of her mouth of any
woman he had ever met.

"Come now," he continued more gently, "I am sorry I hurt thee, girl, but
an answer I must have.  Who was the fellow?"

She looked at him gravely.

"Well, sir, an you will have it, he was—he was a certain Captain Miles
Protheroe."

Captain Protheroe laughed unwillingly at her coolness.

"Come, you must give a better account of him than that, mistress."

"Nay, is that no good account?" she exclaimed with elaborate
astonishment.  "Marry!  How one may be deceived.  I have ever heard
Captain Protheroe spoken of as passably honest, though perchance not
overwise, and decidedly hard-featured."

But this was too much, and Captain Protheroe lost all patience.  Yet if
the girl persisted in her saucy masquerade, he resolved at least to play
up to her, and let her see how she enjoyed the part.

"A truce of this fooling, girl," he began harshly.

"Faith, sir, an my conversation please you not, I will e’en take my
leave," she interposed quickly, and again turned to leave him.

But Captain Protheroe seized her cloak and held her fast.

"Listen to me, my girl," he said sharply, "and bridle your saucy tongue.
Give me the information I require or, by Heaven, I’ll march you back to
the village and keep you prisoner till you learn to obey.  Make up your
mind.  Which shall it be?"

Barbara turned and regarded him gravely from head to foot.

"I like you not," she remarked coolly, as the result of her critical
survey.

"That may well be," he answered, smiling scornfully. "But an you answer
not my questions, and that speedily, I must find means to make you do
so.  Now speak; which shall it be?"

Barbara glanced round eagerly for a way of escape, her mouth drooped,
her eyes opened wide with fear, her hands were clasped convulsively at
her throat, the fingers fidgeting with the ribbons of her cloak.  She
shook her head once or twice helplessly, casting at the captain glances
of indignation, pleading, and reproach.

But he remained resolute.  Then she began in a trembling voice:

"Well, sir, if there be no other way of escape, I must—I must e’en——I
must run!"  And as she spoke the word, with a quick movement she twisted
herself free from the cloak which she had previously unfastened, leaving
it in the captain’s hands, and darting up the bank by the roadside,
disappeared into the plantation beyond.

One or two of the troopers made a motion to pursue her, but the captain
called them back.

"Let her go.  You would never find her in the dark."  And added,
laughing, "The wench deserves her freedom. Fall in, men, and back to
quarters; we can do no more to-night."

Nothing loth, the troopers resumed their way back to the village; but
ere he departed, Captain Protheroe stooped and tore a ribbon from the
discarded cloak, and with a short, half-shamed laugh twisted it round
his wrist.



                              *CHAPTER II*


A man might journey far afield and find no sweeter spot than the village
of Durford as it appeared on a certain sunny September afternoon in the
year of grace 1685.  The low white houses with their heavy overhanging
thatched roofs were bowered in roses; while in each miniature garden the
riot of colour and perfume intoxicated the senses.  The low sun spread
the long, cool shadows of the trees across the brilliant emerald and
gold of the meadows, and lighted up each leaf and flower distinct from
its fellows.  The square tower of the old grey church and the grey-green
clump of the yew trees behind it were silhouetted against a golden haze
like the head of a haloed saint.  The summits of the distant hills faded
in golden mist like the mystic scopes of Paradise.  In the neighbouring
orchards the trees bent beneath the weight of their russet burdens, the
fields spread golden with the harvest, and the wooded hills burned with
the bright, burnished tints of early autumn.  It was as though in this,
the evening of the year, mother earth were moved in emulation of the sky
to deck herself in all the varied colours of the autumn sunset.

In the woods the birds were practising for their autumn chorus, voicing
the ecstatic joy of life in little unexpected trills and bursts of song,
while the heavy drone of the bees and the occasional cry of the
grasshoppers denoted a more sober contentment.  The soft, warm air was
heavy with a myriad delicate scents; breathing over the imagination
faint, suggestive memories of a happy past and formless dreams of a
golden future.

But as the heart of man is still untamed by the sweet influences of
nature, so, on the afternoon in question, a scene was being enacted on
the green before the Inn, as foul as the surrounding picture was fair,
as though heaven and hell, God’s love and tenderness to man, and man’s
brutality and cruelty to his fellows, were here met side by side.

In the centre of the green stood a tall whipping-post, and tied to this
was a small boy of some nine years of age.  His back was bare, his eyes
were wide with fear, and his teeth were resolutely clenched to repress
the sobs which ever and anon forced their way through his lips.

Over the boy, whip in hand, stood a man dressed in the uniform of a
corporal of the 2d Tangiers Regiment, a stout, purple-faced fellow, with
scrubby black hair and beard, near-set cunning eyes, a cruel mouth, and
over all an air of supreme importance and self-satisfaction. This was
Corporal Crutch, a man whose life was alternately glorified by his own
assurance of his remarkable ability and embittered by the world’s
blindness towards the same.

Some half dozen troopers stood around watching the scene, and on the
edge of the group were three or four sobbing women and a crowd of
wide-eyed, terrified children.

"Now, my lad," cried the corporal, with a gleeful chuckle, "let us have
no more of this obstinacy.  Nay, an thou wilt not speak, I warrant me a
taste of this whip will help me to the finding of thy tongue, and
doubtless of thy father into the bargain.  An thou beest a wise lad
thou’lt speak now, once my arm gets to work on thee ’twill not be so
ready to stop, maybe."

Some of the troopers laughed, and the women’s sobs increased, but the
boy remained resolutely silent.

"So thou wilt have it then," cried the corporal; and the whip descended
with a sickening swish on to the boy’s bare back.

Once!  Twice!  Thrice!  The boy shuddered and sobbed, but no word came
from his lips, and the corporal, angered by this unexpected
determination on the part of his victim, doubled the weight of his
blows.

Suddenly a shout interrupted the proceedings and a loud, clear voice
rang out imperiously:

"Hold, fellow!  What art thou doing to the child? Loose him instantly."

The crowd round the corporal fell back hurriedly, and he himself paused
and slowly turned his head in the direction whence the voice came.

The speaker was a tall, slender girl, with a face of such exquisite
beauty as men may hope to see but once or twice in a lifetime, and
having seen, may never hope to forget.  The beautiful oval face,
clear-skinned and glowing with colour, was outlined by soft dark hair,
shading to black in the shadows, waving back from the low white brow in
soft rippling curls.  The clear-cut perfection of her features was
relieved from coldness by the unmanageable dimple at one corner of her
mouth, and by the frank directness of the deep blue eyes, which looked
out upon the world from beneath their dark lashes with habitual
fearlessness.  The expression of her face was habitually happy and
friendly, only the firm lines of her mouth and chin belying the general
expression of good-tempered recklessness.

She was mounted on a rough pony, and had drawn rein at the top of the
hill leading down to the village, moved by an idle curiosity to learn
the cause of the crowd before the Inn.

The faces of the sobbing women brightened when they saw the girl, and
the men glanced at each other sheepishly.

"’Tis Mistress Barbara Winslow from the Manor House," muttered one.
"Thou hadst best send the lad about his business, corporal."

But Corporal Crutch was an obstinate man, and one moreover who was
imbued with a strong sense of his own importance; he had no mind to
allow any woman, whether of high or low degree, to interfere with his
chosen occupation.  Moreover the Manor House was suspected of harbouring
rebels, and its occupants were judged little better than rebels
themselves.  So paying no heed either to the command or the advice, he
turned his back upon the advancing figure and raised his whip for
another blow on the back of his trembling victim.

"Hold!  I tell thee, fellow," cried the girl again angrily.  "Dost thou
not hear me?  Nay, an thou wilt not, by Heaven I’ll make thee obey."

Without further ado she galloped straight at the group on the green
which scattered to right and left as she passed, then with a sudden
quick movement cracked out the long lash of her riding whip, curling it
lasso-like around the corporal’s neck, and not checking her pace dragged
him stumbling and stuttering backwards till he fell to the ground.  Then
releasing the whip handle and reining back her pony to admire her
handiwork she burst into a peal of laughter.  And indeed ’twas a fit
subject for merriment, for the corporal was stout and angry and the lash
was exceedingly long and heavy.  The corporal alternately swore and
struggled, and the lash became every minute more tightly entangled round
his neck.

Presently Mistress Barbara checked her laughter, slipped from her pony
and crossed to the whipping-post where the sobbing boy stood watching
the scene with eager eyes in which hope and fear still strove for the
mastery.

"Loose him," she cried imperiously, and the troopers hastened to obey
her.

"My poor brave laddie," she murmured, bending over him tenderly.  "Ah!
but they have hurt thee cruelly. Get away to thy mother and fear not.
They shall not touch thee again."

Then drawing herself up to her full height, and she was more than common
tall, she faced round upon the group of men.

"Brutes," she cried.  "Brutes ye are, and no men to treat a poor
helpless laddie thus.  What!  Have ye no manhood?  Think shame of
yourselves to stand by and let such work go on.  An I were but a man I’d
teach you a lesson you would not soon forget."

"’Tis well enough to talk," grumbled one of the troopers angrily; "but
the lad’s father is in hiding and we must know where he is, The boy
could tell us well enough an he would speak.  We caught him slipping
thro’ the wood an hour back.  Yon basket of food he carried was for him,
I warrant."

"’Tis very like," answered Barbara coldly.  "What then?"

"What then?  Why the fellow is a rebel."

"And what of that, pray?  An his father be a rebel to King James, is
that reason why the lad should be traitor to his own father?  Shame on
you!  You who are fathers yourselves; would you have your sons cast such
a teaching in your teeth?"

By this time the corporal had freed his neck from the lash and recovered
his equanimity.  Now he bustled to the front with an air of importance.

"Best beware, mistress," he cried roughly.  "Best beware.  ’Tis ill work
to interfere wi’ the just punishment of traitors."

Barbara turned to him and laughed softly.

"Ha!  Sir Gallows-Bird.  So thou hast escaped the hemp; welcome on thy
return to this wicked world."

"I tell thee, madame," stuttered the corporal angrily, "’tis ill work
jesting——"

"Peace, fool!" she cried imperiously.  "I marvel thou art not ashamed to
show thy face after this day’s work. I knew already you and your masters
think it no shame to fight against women, but at least methought
children might go unharmed.  They can do but little harm to King James."

"Pshaw!  Ye know nought of the matter," blustered the corporal.  "I
brook no interference in the exercise of my duty.  Bring back the boy,
Sam Perry, and proceed with the interrogation."

"Do not attempt it," answered the girl quietly, "for I will not permit
it."

Sam Perry hesitated.

"What!" roared the corporal, "are ye afraid of a chit of a girl?  Why do
you not obey?"

"At your peril," cried Barbara sharply, moving before the men.

How the matter would eventually have terminated is doubtful had not a
second interruption occurred.

The door of the Inn opened, and a figure emerged at sight of which the
troopers shrank back sheepishly, and the corporal’s air of importance
vanished pitifully.

"What is the meaning of this disturbance?" sharply demanded the new
arrival.

Barbara turned eagerly towards him.

"Are you the leader of these butchers, sir?" she enquired haughtily.

Though somewhat astonished at this unexpected mode of address, Captain
Protheroe, for he it was, smiled slightly and answered politely enough:

"I am the captain of these men, if that is what you would ask, madame.
Are all soldiers butchers in your estimation?"

"Soldiers!" she cried scornfully.  "Call ye them soldiers?  But perhaps
you are even as they, and ’tis by your orders they torture women and
children and make a veritable hell of God’s earth.  I wish you joy of
such work."

"Pardon my dulness, madame," answered the captain calmly, "but I have
not the least idea to what you are alluding or how I have incurred your
displeasure."

"No?  Then hearken, sir."  And in burning words she described the cause
of her indignation.

The captain listened with a gathering frown to her story, and at the
conclusion turned on the corporal with a look that boded ill for that
self-satisfied mortal.

"So, sirrah!  Is this the way you carry out my orders? Have I not said I
will have no violence to the village folk?  And by Heaven I will be
obeyed.  I have long known thee for a knave.  Art fool and coward, too,
that you must needs force children to help thee with thy work?  Is this
thy notion of a soldier’s work?  I’ll teach thee better knowledge of thy
duty ere I’ve done with thee.  ’Tis not the first time I’ve heard such
complaints; see to it it be the last, or by the saints ’twill be the end
of thy service.  I’ll have no bullies in my troop. Go, sirrah!"

The discomfited corporal slunk off down the street casting an ugly
glance over his shoulder at the girl who had brought such a rating upon
him.  But for her part Barbara laughed and waved her hand after the
retreating figure.

"Fare thee well, Sir Knight of the whipcord," she cried gaily.

When the corporal had vanished, followed by other troopers, the captain
turned towards Barbara with a bow and said coldly:

"I trust you are satisfied with these orders, madame."

"I shall be satisfied, sir, when I know that the orders are executed,"
she answered coolly.

"Madame, I command here.  Where I command I am obeyed."

"’Twere easy to believe it, sir," she answered with a half-smile and a
glance at his resolute face.  "But I have heard there be many orders
delivered thus readily in public which privately are never intended to
be performed."

The captain flushed hotly, but gave no further sign of anger at this
insinuation.

"Indeed, I know not wherein I have deserved your distrust, madame."

"In such troublous times as these my distrust is given before my
confidence, sir; and pray what have you done to prove that distrust is
misplaced?  You claim to be a gentleman, but by Heaven ’tis no gentle’s
work to hunt down poor wretches led astray by others who should have
known a wiser path; ’tis no gentle’s work to harry helpless women and
children; ’tis no gentle’s work to listen behind doors and spy through
keyholes.  By my faith, sir," she continued, her temper increasing at
the remembrance of her many grievances; "By my faith, sir, this poor
wretch of a corporal whom you have so rated is virtue itself compared
with you.  He but executes the orders which you conceive, hiding
yourself behind the name of gentleman."

The last words were delivered with biting scorn, and having concluded
her tirade, Barbara turned her back upon him and stepped towards her
pony.

Captain Protheroe had remained politely silent during this harangue.
When her back was turned he smiled slightly and followed the indignant
lady.

"Permit me to assist you to mount, madame," he said with grave
politeness.

Barbara drew her skirts around her and answered with as much haughty
dignity as her rising anger would permit:

"No, sir.  When you have shown yourself capable of a gentleman’s work
you may be worthy of a gentleman’s privileges.  Until that time I prefer
to mount alone and keep myself from the pollution of your touch."

But instead of being crushed as she had intended he should be, Captain
Protheroe merely smiled again and stood politely aside to watch her
mount.  The pony was restless, two or three attempts were necessary
before the feat was accomplished, and during the struggle both Barbara’s
dignity and temper suffered considerably. Captain Protheroe wisely made
no further offer of assistance, but watched her efforts with an amused
twinkle in his eyes.

Suddenly an idea struck him.  He laughed softly, and placing a detaining
hand upon the pony’s bridle he turned once more to the lady, an ironical
smile playing about his lips.

"Madame, since I am unworthy to touch your foot, I fear I am equally
unworthy to retain this small token of remembrance which you so
obligingly bestowed upon me that evening some weeks ago when you did me
the honour to embrace me."  So speaking he placed his hand in the pocket
of his coat and drew forth the scarlet ribbon of the cloak which she had
left in his hands when she fled from him at their first meeting.

Had there been magic in the small piece of ribbon it could not well have
wrought a greater change in Barbara.  Her attempt at dignity vanished.
A wave of crimson passed over her face, her eyes blazed, and when she
spoke it was in a voice choked with passion.

"How dare you, sir!  ’Tis a most cowardly lie. ’Twas no embrace, as you
might know well. ’Twas—’Twas—an assault."

Her persecutor was as unmoved by her passion as he had been by her
rating.

"No embrace?" he drawled in polite astonishment. "Nay, then I pray you
pardon my mistake, which you will grant me was a natural one.  Truly an
that be your manner of assaulting your enemies, I forgive the Fates for
having ranked me among their number, and shall desire of them nothing
better than continuous battery at your hands."

"Have your desire then," cried Barbara furiously, and doubling up her
first she dealt him a fierce blow on the side of his face.

With a quiet smile he turned his head.

"The other cheek, madame?"

Barbara gasped and for a moment stared down into the cool face raised to
hers.  Then suddenly her eyes twinkled, her mouth dimpled, and she broke
into a soft, half-angry laugh which, however, she as quickly repressed.

"By Heaven, sir, an you be not the most aggravating man in the kingdom,
Heaven grant I may never meet him.  How dare you detain me thus?  Loose
my pony instantly."

He drew back with a low bow.

"Your pardon, madame, your way is free.  In the meantime I will keep
this token till ye redeem it by another embrace—I should say, assault."

"Then you will keep it forever, sir."

"It is nought but the alternative that I should desire more," answered
the captain still with the same quiet smile.  But Barbara was too
furious to answer, and whipping up her pony she galloped away.

The captain stood silently watching her till she disappeared from the
narrow village street, then he turned and walked into the Inn.

In the taproom sat the corporal, his wounded pride somewhat soothed by
generous potations, holding forth upon the subject of his grievances to
the half-dozen troopers collected there.

"’Tis a fine state of things when any blue-eyed wench is to be allowed
to interfere in the administration of justice and say this ye shall and
this ye shall not do, for all the world like the general himself.  ’Tis
no sort of work.  ’Twas very different in the old days wi’ Captain
Carrington.  Then an a lad would not speak we had ways to teach him.
But now——"  He paused cautiously and confided his criticism of his
superior officer to the depths of his tankard.

"This Mistress Barbara is a bold wench," ventured Sam Perry cautiously.

The corporal’s face darkened.

"Mistress Winslow had best be careful," he muttered. "Her brother is
attainted as a rebel, and lieth somewhere in hiding, and I warrant yon
haughty wench knows where.  Zounds!  I’ll keep a careful watch of
her—and I doubt not soon to surprise her secret.  ’Twere a sweet
revenge," he muttered, rubbing his fingers gleefully; "and ’twould teach
her ’tis scant wisdom to bandy words wi’ them in authority and fling
whips i’ an honest man’s face."

Meanwhile Barbara rode home slowly, talking to herself as was her wont.

"Odd’s bodikin! as Rupert would say, but how the fat corporal did puff
and splutter.  Poor Cicely would say ’twere wicked folly thus to anger
our enemies against us, but sure such a prank can do no harm.  The
corporal is patently a fool, I fear him not; and as for the other——"
Here she paused and laughed half-angrily.  "He surely would not venge
his quarrel with me on Rupert.  But what an immovable fellow it is. How
I would love to see him angry.  ’Twere perchance a dangerous experiment,
but I were no true woman did I not long to try.  Ah! well, an he remain
here much longer I fear he may have many chances to taste of my temper.
’Tis a brutal world."  And so alternately laughing and frowning, she
rode home to the Manor House.



                             *CHAPTER III*


The Durford Manor House, which for many generations had been the home of
the Winslows, was a low, rambling structure of grey stone, full of
strange nooks and corners and curious hiding places.  Part of the house
dated back to the fifteenth century, and had sheltered fugitives from
Bosworth field.  It had witnessed many strange scenes during the years
of the Civil War; many a Royalist had found refuge there, and it had
been twice besieged.  Here, in the great oak-panelled hall, Lady
Elizabeth Winslow, grandmother of the present Sir Rupert, had
entertained the Parliamentarian officers to supper while her husband was
held prisoner in the neighbouring room, and after disarming their
suspicions by her wit and gaiety, had eluded their vigilance and slipped
out of her window when her guests had retired for the night, and ridden
through the darkness to Taunton.  Here she roused the townsfolk, and
herself riding at their head had surprised the small force conducting
her husband to Gloucester and rescued him just when all hope of escape
seemed dead. Here Mistress Penelope Winslow, the proud beauty of the
House, whose portrait, a stiff, lifeless shadow of the beauty which had
set fire to all the hearts in the countryside, still hung above the
stairs, had refused her twenty suitors and finally given her hand to a
nameless Scotch soldier and ridden away with him to the wilds of his
Highland home.  Here Richard Winslow, that renowned soldier, had been
brought after the battle of Worcester, the very remnant of a man, spared
by the clemency of Parliament to drag out a weary existence in the house
of his fathers, and dream what his life might have been had not a fatal
shot left him at once blind, deaf and paralysed.  Here Stephen Winslow,
after impoverishing his house and risking his life for his sovereign,
had eaten his heart out through long years of baffled ambition and
bitter disappointment, learning the gratitude of kings.

The Winslows had ever been loyal to the Stuarts, giving all and asking
little in return, and, though she would not for the world confess it, it
had been a sore trouble to Mistress Barbara that her twin brother
Rupert, the last representative of his line, should have chosen to cast
in his lot with the usurper Monmouth and rebel against his lawful
sovereign.

She had acquiesced, as she acquiesced in all he proposed, but her heart
boded no good of the matter, and when the fatal battle of Sedgemoor had
sent Monmouth to captivity and the block, and had made of her own
brother a fugitive from home, in hiding she knew not where, she
experienced anxiety and misery indeed, so far as her sunny hopeful
nature would allow, but no surprise.

More than two weary months had passed since that fatal morning, but no
news of the wanderer had reached the Manor House.  From time to time her
more humble neighbours crept back in secret to the village they had left
so hopefully that bright morning in June when they went out to join one
whom they believed to be the Heaven-sent defender of their faith and
freedom.  But they came back, alas! only to creep away again to some
dreary hiding-place in moor or wood, for the village was watched by the
soldiers and home could no longer offer safe refuge to the weary,
despairing men.  From time to time came rumours of the escape or capture
of this or that follower of the Duke and terrible stories of punishment
meted out by brutal judges; still no news of young Sir Rupert Winslow
came to allay the anxiety of his sister or soften the hopeless misery of
his young cousin Cicely, to whom he had been betrothed but three short
weeks before his departure.  But no suspense, however terrible, can last
forever, and at length, early in September, the longed-for news arrived.

Mistress Barbara and her cousin were at breakfast in the sunny parlour
of the Manor House, and the former had just sought to win a smile from
the sad face of her companion by relating her adventure with Corporal
Crutch in the village on the previous afternoon.  When she ended her
story Cicely looked up fearfully and shook her head.

"Indeed, Barbara, thou art too rash.  Thou hast but made an enemy of the
man, and God wot we have enemies enough already."

"Nay, prithee do not chide me," answered her cousin coaxingly; "the
fellow can do us no harm.  And indeed, Cicely, I must be merry
sometimes, or I verily believe I should die."

"Merry!" exclaimed Cicely somewhat bitterly.  "Ay, perchance thou canst
be merry, Rupert is but thy brother; yet to me——"

"He is thy betrothed.  Then truly by all showing I should be more
distressed than thou.  New lovers may be gotten by the score, but by no
power could I win me another brother.  Nay, dear, I did but jest, I
meant not to vex thee," she added contritely, seeing her cousin’s lip
quiver unsteadily; "thou knowest my tongue runs ever faster than my
brain, plague on it."

"Thou hast not vexed me, Barbara, only——  I would I had the secret of
thy courage."

"Nay, thou hast courage enough, only somewhat too much thought.  Were I
to sit and dream all day of what evils might befall Rupert I should be
as sad-eyed as thou art.  But indeed no news is good news. The world is
a good place, and I see not why one may not hope for happy days until
sad ones befall us, eh!"

They were interrupted by the entrance of the waiting-maid. "I were loath
to trouble ye, Mistress Barbara," she began, "but ’tis a zertain
tiresome vellow, Simon the pedlar, who asks to show you his wares.  To
my thinking he hath nought worth a glance, and I had zent un about his
bizness speedily; but a be a mozt stubborn fellow and will not depart
until a zee ye.  A zays a hath zomething of great value but a be a
vellow will say aught to gain a hearing, I know un well."

Barbara’s face brightened suddenly and she sprang eagerly from her seat.

"’Tis well, Phoebe, take the fellow in; I will come on the instant."

"Why, Barbara!" exclaimed Cicely in astonishment; "what would you with
the man?  Would’st plenish thy store of linsey or tapes that thou art so
ready to see him?"

"An I dream not, Cis, he will have wares more precious than those."

"What!" cried Cicely with awakened interest.  "Is it possible the fellow
hath stuffs from London with him? I would willingly buy, an it be so."

Barbara laughed and pinched her cousin’s chin.  "Thou little vanity!
Thou worshipper of gauds and ribbons!" she cried with much solemnity; "I
verily believe thou would’st sell thy soul for two dozen yards of Genoa
velvet.  But come; we will see what he has to show us."

On entering the large wainscotted hall the girls found the pedlar
standing in the embrasure of one of the windows, his pack tying unopened
at his feet.  He was an aged, wizened-looking creature upon whose face
greed and cunning had laid their stamp.

Cicely eagerly eyeing the pack addressed herself to him with a slight
air of hauteur.

"Well, fellow, where are your wares?  Have you aught of rarity or value
to show us?"

"Ay, that have I, mistress," he answered in a high-pitched grating
voice, with an air of impertinent familiarity.  "I have that here which
will bring light to the dullest eye, a blush to the palest cheek, and
joy to the saddest heart.  ’Tis not over rare neither, yet ’tis ever
held to be of the greatest value."

"Why what mean you?  What should this be?"

"A letter, mistress! a love-letter I doubt not."

"A letter!  From whom?"

"From one of whom your ladyship hath long wished to hear, and hath
well-nigh heard from no more," he answered with a brutal laugh.

Cicely’s eyes flashed, her whole body trembled with eagerness.

"Ah! give it me, give it me, my good man; why hast thou delayed so
foolishly?"

"Softly, softly mistress," answered the fellow coolly. "Here is the
letter sure enow," drawing a small white packet from his valise—"And
’tis from Sir Rupert."  Here he showed the direction.  "But first give
me my price."

"Oh yes, thou shalt be paid, never fear," cried Cicely with increasing
impatience.  "Now give me the packet."

"Not so fast, mistress," he answered curtly; "I yield not up this packet
before I see my reward."

"Oh! you foolish fellow! name your price then."

"Five hundred crowns," he answered coolly.

"Five hundred crowns," cried Cicely in horror; "why, man, thou art mad,
I have not such a sum."

"Mad or no, that is my price."

"But I could not pay thee such a sum; you are a very extortioner, you
wicked fellow."

"Listen to me, mistress," interrupted the pedlar roughly; "and be not so
glib with thy tongue; hard words win no favours.  I know nought of
politics, and Sir Rupert may hang twenty times for all I care.  All I
know is that this letter is worth my price, and if ye will not pay it
there be others not a mile away who will be right willing to buy the
information it contains."

"Ah, sure you could not be so cruel," began Cicely piteously, but
Barbara intervened.

"Peace, Cicely, let me deal with the fellow.  Now, my man," she
continued, turning on him sharply, "we will give thee twenty crowns for
that letter and not a penny more, dost hear me?"

"Oh, ay, mistress, I hear thee," drawled the pedlar jeeringly.  "Well,
’tis but a small matter after all, ’tis but one more job for Tom
Boilman.  I doubt not your ladyship hath heard the sentence of these
rebels," he continued turning to Cicely; "’Tis hanging, drawing and
quartering for them all.  Oh, I warrant me they’ll spare no toil to give
Sir Rupert a worthy death. He’ll have music in plenty for his last
dance, and in case he find the hanging wearisome they’ll cut him down
and cut him up before he chokes."  He laughed brutally at his joke and
added coolly, "Maybe he’ll live long enough to feel the boiling pitch,
they say some of them have done so, and Sir Rupert is hardy enow."

Cicely covered her face with her hands and sank shuddering to the
ground.

"Oh!  Barbara, Barbara, what can we do?" she sobbed, while the pedlar
laughed once more.

"Plague take the man," muttered Barbara in desperation; "what could
Rupert be doing to trust in such a rogue!  Well, something must be done,
but what?"

She looked round for inspiration and her glance rested on a long rapier
which lay on the central table.  She turned again to the pedlar and her
eyes gleamed with excitement and triumph.

"He is but a poor creature," she muttered, "and by his face he should be
but a coward.  I can but try it."

"Well, mistress," continued the fellow harshly, "am I to offer the
letter for sale down at the Winslow Arms yonder?"

"No, my man," answered Barbara calmly, "for an ye will not deliver it
fairly I purpose to take it myself."  So saying she stepped aside,
picked up the rapier and raised the point full at the breast of the
pedlar.

The cunning smile died from the man’s face and he looked doubtfully from
the shining blade to the resolute face of the girl.

Barbara watched him with a cheerful smile.  "I fear me, fellow, you have
made a sad mistake," she remarked coolly, "an you deemed you could act
the bully undisturbed. We be two women, ’tis true, but not defenceless,
as you will soon learn an you try to resist, for I can wield a rapier as
well as any man; Cicely, reach me hither yonder pistol; ’tis loaded?
Yes.  Now my man, the letter, if you please."

This turn of events was totally unexpected by the pedlar.  He
half-doubted the girl’s threat, but few such men as he would care to
risk a rush against a loaded pistol and a rapier wielded by a resolute
hand.  He made an attempt to snatch the rapier but the girl easily
fenced his attempt, and the rapidity of her disengagement showed him
that her boast of skill had been no idle threat.  Barbara stood betwixt
him and the door, the window was closed, he could see no way of escape.

After a moment or two of hesitation during which Barbara watched him
breathlessly, he decided on a prudent course; placed the letter on the
window-seat and answered sulkily:

"There is the packet then, give me the twenty crowns and let me go."

"Not so, friend," answered Barbara sweetly.  "The Winslow Arms is still
conveniently near, and I have not so low an estimate of your cunning as
to doubt your knowledge of the contents of yonder letter.  We must keep
you here a little space.  Oblige me by mounting those stairs."

The hawker made a step forward, only to find the point of the rapier
against his breast, and seeing resistance to be useless he turned with a
muttered curse and commenced to climb the wide staircase.  Barbara
followed him, the sword in her right hand, the pistol in her left, for
being thoroughly skilled in the use of the rapier she felt more
confidence in that weapon than in the pistol, which latter aroused in
her as in many of her sex feelings rather of doubt and suspicion than of
confidence, in fact she carried it but to give an air of greater
resolution to her action.

"What a grace it is to be firm of countenance," she chuckled to herself
as she slowly followed her victim. "The poor fool! and he did but know
how my heart trembles, for in truth, if he resists, I could not hurt
him.  If I did pink him with my rapier ’tis very like I should but faint
at sight of his blood, but he is too great a coward to attempt it.  What
a tale this will be for Rupert."

Now when either man or woman is embarked upon any hazardous undertaking
’tis but scant wisdom to indulge in triumphant rejoicing before the
success of the enterprise be thoroughly assured.  Had Barbara borne this
in mind and given less rein to her hopeful imagination she had doubtless
been better prepared for what followed.  For as they approached the top
of the stairway and she was hugging herself over the success of her
bravado, the pedlar suddenly stumbled forward upon his face, slipped
down two steps, striking his boots against the girl’s ankles, and before
she rightly realised what was happening had twisted himself backwards
under the guard of her rapier, knocked up her arm and flinging her
roughly aside he started down the stairs.

Barbara clutched at the balustrade to save herself from falling
headlong, and in so doing dropped the pistol.  The suddenness of the
attack had completely shattered her nerve, she could do nothing save
cling to the oak railing and gaze helplessly after the retreating figure
of the pedlar.

As for Simon, he paused neither for his pack nor his letter, but made
all speed to reach the open door of the hall, and he would assuredly
have escaped unopposed but for the sudden intervention of an unexpected
enemy.

He had already reached the threshold, and in another minute would have
been free, when Cicely, with a sudden thought born of the very nearness
of the danger, sprang to her feet and gave a shrill whistle.  There was
a low, fierce growl, a quick rush of feet.

"Down with him, Butcher, at him! at him!" cried Cicely, and the next
moment the pedlar was pulled to the ground and struggling wildly with
the enormous wolfhound which had answered his mistress’s eager summons
and now stood over Simon shaking and worrying him as if he had been a
rat.

If the man’s life were to be saved there was clearly no time to be lost,
and the two girls hurried to the spot to interpose between the dog and
his victim.

It was no easy task, for the dog was savage with fury, but at length
Cicely succeeded in dragging him away, while Barbara fell on her knees
beside the man anxiously inquiring of his injuries.

"Oh!  I can trust thou art not greatly hurt," she gasped; "tho’ in truth
’twere but thy deserts.  Canst not speak, fellow?  Nay, prithee what
ails thee?  Alack! I fear me Butcher has hurt thee sorely, and yet truly
I would it were more.  Indeed the dog should be chained, tho’ I am right
thankful he was free."

So she continued, torn between a woman’s compassion for his overthrow
and a deep sense of relief at their escape.

Meanwhile Cicely having somewhat pacified the indignant Butcher returned
to the pedlar’s side.  She could not repress a smile as she listened to
her cousin’s contradictory outburst.  She had no pity to spare for the
man who had so threatened the life of her lover.

"Tut, Barbara! ’tis my belief the fellow is but little injured save in
the loss of his garments," for the pedlar’s coat was in rags.  "Come,"
she continued, turning sharply to the man, "be thankful the dog has
dealt so gently with you, ’twould not be so the next time an ye attempt
to escape again.  Up with you, fellow."

With many groans and heartfelt curses Simon struggled to his feet.  As
Cicely had suspected he was rather terrified than hurt, but the dog had
shaken out of him what little courage he possessed.  He turned without
further attempt at resistance, and slowly mounted the stairs, followed
once more by Barbara, who, having well-nigh paid dearly for her
experience, did not relax her wariness until she had safely secured him
in one of the upper chambers whence there was no possibility of escape.

This done she hurried down into the hall, where Cicely sat engrossed
already in her letter, and burst into a merry laugh.

"Well done, Cis, well done," she cried, flinging herself down beside her
cousin.  "I vow thou art a very virago, but for thee he would have
escaped.  Alack! ’tis small use to have the wrist, eye, and skill of a
man when one has but a woman’s nerve.  But what news, coz; what says the
letter?"

"He is safe, he has reached the coast, and to-morrow will take sail in a
vessel bound for Holland.  He——  But I will tell thee the rest anon,"
answered Cicely somewhat hurriedly, and then passed into the garden
still reading her letter.

"Plague take these lovers!" exclaimed Barbara, looking after her
whimsically, "they are not too generous with their news.  But now, how
to rid me of yon same discontented gentle upstairs."  She paused and bit
her lip thoughtfully.  "Ah! well, there is time for that; he is safe
enough now, and belike a plan will suggest itself later."

Then she stretched her arms as though a great load were lifted from her
shoulders, and laughed again softly.

"’Tis selfish to be happy when there be so many still in sorrow," she
murmured.  "But with Rupert safe again I cannot feel a care.  All! ’tis
a good world, a good world, and therefore," she cried, springing to her
feet with a laugh, "I will go out and rejoice in it."



                              *CHAPTER IV*


The old-fashioned garden was the glory of the Manor House.  Generations
of flower-lovers had tended it year by year, and every nook and corner
bore testimony to the loving care of its owners.  As Barbara tripped
along the trim box-edged paths between banks of hollyhocks and
proud-faced dahlias and sweet clusters of late roses, she looked, in her
soft blue gown, with her happy face and shining eyes like the very
spirit of Hope just escaped from the box of Pandora, and meet to face
and vanquish all the evils of the world.  But when she emerged upon the
lawn and came in sight of the grey stone sun-dial she stopped short, for
on the steps of the dial sat Sorrow herself in the person of Cicely, her
head leaning forlornly against the stone pillar, her eyes streaming with
tears, her hands clasped and her breast convulsed with bitter sobs.

The laughter died out of Barbara’s face, and was replaced by a look of
the utmost astonishment and desperation.

"Now may I be forgiven, Cicely, an thou beest not the most ungrateful
girl in Christendom," she exclaimed reproachfully.  "Shame on you to sit
there weeping like a very fountain, when thou shouldest be glad and
thankful at Rupert’s escape."

"Ah, indeed, Barbara!  I am thankful, but——"

"Nay, then Heaven preserve me from such a melancholy display of
thankfulness," responded Barbara drily.  Then seating herself beside her
sobbing cousin she continued coaxingly, "Come, tell me what ails thee,
Cicely.  Thou sayest Rupert has reached the coast in safety and
to-morrow will take ship for Holland where he will wait until we can
make his peace with the King. Is it not so?  I confess I see no great
cause for tears in news such as this."

"Ah, Barbara, ’tis different with thee, Rupert is only thy brother."

"Well, and were he ten thousand times thy sweetheart, I still cannot see
why thou shouldest weep at his escape."

"Thou dost not listen, Barbara," answered Cicely somewhat petulantly.
"I thank Heaven for his safety, but, oh, Barbara!  I cannot let him go
without seeing him once more, just once; and he says likewise he will
not go without seeing me.  Bethink you, we may not meet for years, and
so he being but ten miles distant, he purposes to ride over to-night and
bid farewell; and so I must weep, Barbara, for if he comes he will
assuredly be taken, and if he comes not I shall assuredly die."

Barbara sprang to her feet with a gesture of despair.

"Now a plague on you both for a pair of mad lovers. He cannot come here,
’tis madness.  Thou knowest, Cicely, the house and roads are watched
night and day by these scarlet-coated, scarlet-faced troopers, and they
say yonder dark-visaged captain of theirs is a very dragon of vigilance.
’Tis clear they deem such a visit likely, seeing how closely they watch
our movements; ’twere fair courting capture if Rupert came."

"I know the risk well enow.  But, oh, Barbara, I cannot live another day
without seeing him.  Ah, to feel he is so near, so near, and I may not
see him, feel his hand, hear his voice.  Oh!  I cannot endure it," and
leaning her head once more against the cold stone pillar of the dial,
she burst into a passion of sobs.

Barbara regarded her with an expression of helpless bewilderment.

"’Tis passing strange," she murmured.  "Come, Cis, I am Rupert’s self in
face and figure.  I will kiss and cozen thee and call thee pretty names
to thy heart’s content; why may not that suffice thee?"

In spite of her tears Cicely could not repress a smile at this strange
offer of a substitute.

"’Tis very clear, Barbara, thou hast never loved."

"Truly no," was the frank rejoinder.  "I know nought of the matter; it
passeth my understanding altogether and indeed methinks it is but
nonsense.  Rupert is very well where he is and you shall see him in a
year or two at most.  What more can you wish tho’ you were a thousand
times in love.  Come, Cis, dry thine eyes, and we will send to forbid
him to come."

But Cicely only wept the more persistently.

"Ah!  Barbara, thou hast no heart, I must see him once again, indeed I
must.  I must let him hold me in his arms, and feel him near me.
Barbara, you do not understand, but I shall die if I may not see him.
Sure thou couldst help me an thou wouldst.  My heart will break else.
Oh, Barbara! try to understand."

Barbara gave a sigh of sheer desperation, then yielded to her cousin’s
plea.

"’Tis stark madness, Cis," she cried; "but thou shalt have thy way.
Only look cheerily and Rupert shall come.  But now how to devise it."
She clasped her chin in her hands and bent her brows in thought. "What
said he in the letter?"

"Thou mayest read it, an thou wilt not laugh."

Barbara took the note and turned away to pace up and down the lawn lest
her cousin should see the involuntary twitching of her lips as she read
the tender epistle; it was so strange to her to think of Rupert writing
thus—Rupert, who to her seemed the personification of boyish gaiety.

As she raised her head from perusing the note her attention was
momentarily arrested by a rustling sound from within one of the large
laurel bushes bordering the lawn and a strange shimmer behind the
leaves.  She stared at the bush a moment in surprise and then passed on
towards the foot of the garden still deep in thought. Here she paused
long, gazing into the stream which there flowed by the garden, her face
wrinkled with anxiety and bewilderment as she puzzled her brain over the
situation, her eyes darkened with a shadow, of fear.

Suddenly with a flash the inspiration came.  Her bent brows relaxed, her
eyes glanced mischievously, she gave a gasp at the very magnificence of
the idea, and breaking into the gayest laughter she fairly danced back
to her cousin, clapping her hands with delight.

"Cicely, Cicely," she cried, "never let it be said again that Barbara is
a brainless madcap.  I have conceived the properest plot, a very prince
of plots.  Thou shalt see thy Romeo to-night, my poor lovelorn Juliet,
and I——faith!  I will have the maddest prank that ever woman played."
And flinging herself on to the grass, she laughed till the tears ran
down her cheeks.

Cicely stared at her in undisguised astonishment.

"Barbara," she remarked solemnly, "I verily believe thou art mad."

"Thou wouldest say so indeed an thou knewest my plan."

"Come then, tell me."

"Not I," laughed Barbara.  "Be thou content with thy beloved Romeo, and
leave me my jest to myself."

"But, Barbara, I am afraid.  What if the plan should fail!"

"Talk not to me of failure, Cis.  There is a risk, I do not deny it;
but," she continued, laughing, "if danger befall can we not fight our
way out?  Butcher is a mighty ally; I am well nigh as handy as Rupert
with the rapier, and thou mightest perchance discharge a pistol or so,
if it were possible to do so and cover thine ears at the same moment."

"In Heaven’s name, Barbara, what have you in your mind?" cried Cicely in
dismay.

"Fear nothing, coz; leave all to me.  Listen, Peter the smith can always
be trusted; he or little Jacky Marlow would carry our message to Rupert.
If he start at twilight he should be here before ten.  We can hide
him——"

"Whist, Barbara!" interrupted Cicely softly, "didst not hear a rustle in
yonder bush?  Can anyone be in hiding there?"

"Tut, tut! thou trembler!  Thou wouldest see a spy in every pansy face.
’Twas but a rat or a rabbit.  Get thee in and send for Peter; I will
write my note to Rupert."

"I know not why I trust you, Barbara," said Cicely doubtfully, "for thou
art ever a madcap.  But I must see him."

"Well so thou shalt, so thou shalt; now leave me alone to think."

Left alone by the sun-dial Barbara resumed her favourite attitude for
thought, one foot tucked beneath her, her head bent, her chin resting
upon her clasped hands.

She thought deeply.  Twice or thrice she raised her head and laughed
aloud suddenly, as though catching some new and entertaining idea.  Once
indeed her face grew grave and her eyes fearful, and she shuddered as
she weighed the dangers before her, but presently with a laugh she
banished the thought.  Was she not a Winslow? and whenever was Winslow
yet who let fear turn him from the path he chose to tread?

At length she drew paper and pencil from her reticule, and wrote a short
note.  Then gathering up her flowers she rose and walked towards the
house.

As she passed the clump of laurel she paused and plucked a few sprigs,
glancing sharply through the leaves the while; then with a laugh and a
shake of the head she passed on.

But having passed, there lay behind her in the centre of the path two
roses and the little white note which had slipped from her fingers to
the ground.

No sooner had Barbara vanished from sight than the branches of the
laurel were parted and a purple face peered cautiously out.  The face
was followed by the stout figure of Corporal Crutch, who crawled from
behind the bush, pounced upon the paper, and with a low chuckle of
delight disappeared with his prize, leaving the garden once again
deserted.



                              *CHAPTER V.*


Corporal Crutch, having obtained possession of the coveted note, and
seeing nothing more to be gained by remaining at his uncomfortable post,
withdrew softly from the garden.  Stealing into the adjoining coppice,
he seated himself beneath the shady trees, mopped his brow and proceeded
to decipher the letter, pausing occasionally to chuckle slyly and
congratulate himself upon the unexpected success of his espionage.

The letter was written in a bold round hand, and ran as follows:


DEAR RUPERT.—Thou art indeed the very apostle of rashness, but seeing
thou art resolved to venture here to bid Cicely farewell, ’twere waste
of words to attempt to dissuade thee.  Yet prithee think no shame to be
cautious, for the risk is great; we are much suspected and the house and
lanes are closely watched. But to-day I will convey a message to this
worthy captain, as from a trusted informant, that it is thine intention
to meet me at the Lady Farm.  These troopers swallow any bait; ’twill go
hard an they ride not thither on a wild goose chase.  As for you, an you
come with caution over the hill and down the stream (the boat is moored
among the willows at the old place) you will surely escape them.  Once
in the garden thou art safe enough; they dare not show their faces there
and they love not the copse at night, deeming it damp,—as assuredly it
is,—and haunted,—as doubtless it may be.  We will be on the watch for
thee, and the old hiding place is ready, an it should be needed.
Farewell, thou rash and lovelorn fool.  Thy sister,

BARBARA.


"Ods zooks! here’s a prize!" chuckled the corporal, tossing the paper in
the air and catching it again in the very ecstacy of delight.  "Ha, Ha!
my pretty mistress, thou’lt sing a different tune ere I’ve done with
thee to-night.  Now what to do?  What were best? The captain (curse him)
is away to Spaxton wi’ three o’ the men, to search the Squire’s papers;
he’ll not be back till nightfall.  The better fortune that; I’ll see to
this business myself, and ’twill go hard an I have not this same ’rash
and lovelorn fool’ in my safe keeping ere day dawns.  Now how to work
it?" he mused.  "It were easier had they but said where the fellow lies.
Should I set one to follow her messenger, and so discover his
hiding-place?  Yet that were difficult, perchance dangerous; ’tis very
like we would but be led astray; these peasants are cursedly
untrustworthy, and monstrous shrewd.  Or post men up the stream, and
take him on the road?  That, too, were risky.  Perchance ’twere wiser to
watch him into the house, and there trap him.  Yes, by Jupiter!" he
muttered excitedly, "trap him and trap them all.  Two traitors are
better than one, and if she be not judged traitor for thus harbouring
rebels, may I dance to Kirke’s music myself.  Why, ’tis no less than
Mistress Lisle lost her head for last week.  Yes, it must be so.  Ah!
the pretty fool, wi’ her prince of plots.  She may plot, ay, and
counter-plot, but she’ll not out-plot Jonathan Crutch, I warrant me. But
soft, who comes here?"

It was Peter Drew, the smith, from the village, who strode through the
coppice on his way to the Manor House.  He greeted the Corporal with a
scowl.

"Good-day, fellow," began that worthy.  "What do you up here?"

"My lawful business, which is more than you can say," growled the smith,
and passed on towards the house.

"Hum!  So yonder is her messenger," mused the corporal. "Well, let him
pass, he’ll lime our bird for us."

Then he arose, and cautiously resuming his post of observation within
the laurel bush he tossed the note back into the garden.  Scarcely had
he done so when Barbara came down the garden, searching eagerly for the
missing paper.  Presently she espied it where it lay on the lawn, and
picking it up she placed it carefully in her pocket and returned to the
house, while the corporal chuckled again over his success.

Ten minutes later Peter Drew came into sight round a corner of the
building.  He led a sturdy pony by the bridle, and his right arm was
firmly linked in the arm of the unfortunate hawker, who was helpless in
the grip of the powerful smith, and with rage in his heart was forced to
walk along apparently on terms of the greatest friendship with his
companion.  For behind them marched the wolfhound, and the hawker knew
that at the least attempt to escape he would be given over at once to
the mercy of this relentless foe.  They turned in the direction of the
smithy and soon disappeared from sight.  Then all was quiet once more
and the corporal, again extricating himself from the sheltering laurel,
set off for the village to collect his men and make his dispositions for
the evening.

He proceeded with the utmost caution.  Two of his men he posted on the
main road to Cannington, where a path turned off over the hill to the
river, and two more some distance up the stream, that they might watch
and follow Sir Rupert should he by chance elect not to visit the Manor
House itself.  These he instructed not to interfere with Sir Rupert,
unless he showed signs of scenting a trap, but to allow him to reach his
house unmolested.  The remainder he ordered to conceal themselves in the
plantation near the house, and after dusk at a signal from him quietly
to surround the building.  He enjoined on all the greatest caution in
concealing themselves, and bade them take good note of all who entered
or left the mansion, but not to prevent any or show themselves until he
gave the signal.

This done he returned to the Winslow Arms and proceeded to fortify his
spirits and strengthen his wits by a hearty meal, thanking his stars the
while that Captain Protheroe’s absence gave him the opportunity to
direct the operations in his own way.

"If the matter were but left to the captain, there would be but little
fear for Sir Rupert; he hath neither wit nor stomach for such a job.
Like as not he would have left the women alone, to harbour what rebels
they choose.  I marvel how he hath already risen so high in favour, save
that the general is always easy tempered. If the business had been in my
hands alone, the fellow had been laid by the heels long since."

So mused the worthy corporal, as he devoured his dinner and complacently
reviewed his crafty proceedings of the morning.

His meal and his meditations were alike presently cut short by the
entrance of the host, who announced that a man stood without clamouring
for instant permission to speak with the captain, or if that might not
be, with the corporal of the troop.

"’Tis a most persistent fellow.  He saith he hath information of great
moment for your honour, but I’ll not vouch for the truth of it; he is a
pedlar by trade, and such have ever glib tongues," continued the host
with some scorn.

The corporal started on hearing the man’s message; but remembering that
a part of Mistress Barbara’s plan was to send a messenger to the captain
he smiled cunningly and ordered that the pedlar be instantly admitted.

"’Tis some traitorous rogue she hath employed, I doubt not," he
muttered, "and a daring fellow withal to venture thus into the net.
’Twere well that such an one be speedily laid by the heels."

Then the door opened and in hurried Simon, the Pedlar.

Breathless and eager, and glancing nervously over his shoulder the
while, he ignored the curt greeting of the corporal and broke at once
roughly into his story.

"’Tis concerning Sir Rupert Winslow," he began. "I have certain
information to sell.  I know where he lies hid and likewise whither he
purposes to ride this very night.  An it be not so, you may hang me for
a lying rogue.  Give me my price and I will deliver him over to you
within three hours.  But first I must see my reward."

Had the hawker’s mind been in a less agitated condition, had he been
less nervous of pursuit and interruption he had assuredly gone about his
business in a more cautious manner; but so fearful was he lest even at
the eleventh hour he might be prevented from driving his bargain that he
failed entirely to note the effect of his words upon the corporal.

As for that self-complacent mortal, ever since the unceremonious
entrance of the pedlar whom he instantly recognized as the smith’s
companion of that morning, his indignation had increased, until at the
final rough demand for money, it overflowed in a furious burst of anger.
Even had he believed the man honest, it is doubtful whether he would
have listened long to one so utterly wanting in all the obsequious
attentions which he considered due to his dignity, but convinced as he
was that the fellow was no more than an impudent impostor, his rage knew
no bounds.

Springing from his chair, and banging furiously with his fist upon the
table he roared at the astonished pedlar, pouring forth upon him such a
torrent of abuse and threats that Simon was terrified.  In vain did the
unfortunate pedlar attempt to remonstrate, in vain did he plead that his
tale might be put to the proof, the corporal would hear no more, and
before he could grasp the reason of this unexpected anger he found
himself marched away between two troopers and securely locked into an
upper chamber of the inn, where he was left to meditate in solitude upon
his second unsuccessful attempt at bargain driving, and to curse the ill
fate that had led him so to over-reach himself.

Then, with a pleasing sense of duty done and villainy outwitted, the
corporal soothed his ruffled feelings with a cooling draught of cider,
finished his dinner in peace, and departed once more to take up a
position behind his well-tried laurel bush, whence he could survey at
once the stream, the lawn, and the entrance to the house itself.

Ten minutes after his departure an anonymous note was left at the Inn
for Captain Protheroe.  The note lay unheeded on the table, but
Barbara’s mission had already been unwittingly fulfilled by the very man
who sought to betray her.



                              *CHAPTER VI*


Time passed slowly for the corporal as he crouched wearily at his post.

The garden remained deserted.  Late in the afternoon three maid-servants
chattering gaily, he supposed at the prospect of an evening holiday,
came out and set off for the village, calling back saucy messages to
Phoebe Marlow, who, from the doorway disconsolately watched them depart.
Then again all was silent.

The bright promise of the early morning hours was not fulfilled.  The
evening sky was heavy with clouds and dusk fell early.  The corporal had
changed his position a hundred times, had yawned and sighed, and even
nodded once or twice before the longed-for hour arrived.

But at length, about ten o’clock, a light twinkled in one of the windows
of the dark and silent house, and presently the soft swish of a paddle
up the stream was audible.

The corporal held his breath and craned forward, looking and listening
eagerly.  He heard the dull thud of the boat against the bank, a paddle
drop, soft footfalls on the lawn, and presently the dark figure of a man
loomed into sight, and passed quickly toward the house.

But ere he reached the building, the door was flung wide and a woman
appeared on the lintel with outstretched arms, crying loud, "Rupert!  At
last!  At last!"

For an instant the figures stood revealed in the glare of light from the
doorway, and the corporal noted a tall, slender youth with bright
complexion and dark, curling hair, falling in love-locks to his
shoulders, as Barbara had described him, herself in form and feature.
Taking the woman into his arms, they passed into the house together, and
the door was closed.

For a few moments the corporal waited cautiously, then as all remained
quiet, he crept from his hiding-place and, cracking his fingers with
delight at the success of his enterprise, gave the signal for his men to
surround the house.

In five minutes they were posted to his satisfaction, so carefully that
not a cat could escape unobserved, and having ordered them to let any
enter who would (for he had as lief catch a dozen rebels as one), but to
allow none to leave the building without his express command, he
approached the entrance and delivered a thundering blow upon the door.

There was no answer.  The echoes died away in the distance and the house
remained silent as night.

He raised his arm for a second blow, when a light touch on the shoulder
caused him to spring round in astonishment and fear, for his heart was
already in his mouth with excitement and self-importance.

Behind him stood Captain Protheroe, regarding him grimly.

"How now, corporal?" demanded the captain sharply, "What is the meaning
of this?  I came riding down the lane when I find three troopers
crouching by the gate yonder, for all the world like conies in their
burrow, and I learn, forsooth, that you have surrounded this house and
were even about to force an entrance. What warrant have you for this,
and why was I not informed sooner of the matter?  Must I again teach
you, sirrah, that you take too much upon yourself?"

The corporal regarded him sulkily.

"There is a traitor within, captain," he muttered.

"Bah! another of your mare’s nests, I make no doubt. What proof have
you?"

"Proof enough and to spare," answered the corporal stoutly.  "Witness my
own eyes and ears," and he rapidly reported all that had passed.  The
captain’s face hardened as he listened and he glanced sharply up at the
house.

"Ah! it seems you are on the right track for once. But zounds, fool," he
continued angrily, "why, in Heaven’s name, didn’t you trap him before he
entered the house and leave the women-folk in peace?  I warrant we’ll
have a bad business now.  Dolt!  Well, there is no other way now.  Knock
again and on with the work.  ’Twill be a wretched business," he muttered
with a shrug and a wry smile.

The corporal again knocked loudly, and after a considerable interval,
footsteps were heard inside, and a voice demanded timidly who was there.

"Open at once, i’ the King’s name," roared the corporal.

"Marry, then, which king?" answered the voice, "there be so many kings
nowadays."

"Open in the name of King James," was the angry answer.

"Now wherefore King James?  King Monmouth was far better favoured,"
answered the voice.

"Zounds, fellow!" interrupted the captain angrily, "wouldest parley all
day?"  Then dealing a furious blow on the door, he shouted angrily:

"An ye open not instantly, I must break in the door."

"Beshrew me!  Here’s a gentle visitor!" was the answer, and then the
door yielded to their pressure and the captain, followed by the corporal
and three troopers, entered the house.

They paused, however, on the threshold, and Captain Protheroe muttered a
despairing exclamation, for the hall was empty save for Mistress
Barbara, who, dropping them a mocking curtsey, demanded gravely to what
cause she owed the honour of such a visit.

Captain Protheroe quickly recovered his composure and bowed politely,
mentally observing that never before had he done full justice to the
girl’s beauty, or fully realised the fascination that may lurk in soft
dark curls trailing over a snowy forehead and nestling into the nape of
a beautifully formed neck.

"It grieves me to be thus forced to intrude upon your privacy, Mistress
Winslow," he began gently, "but I must obey orders.  Methinks you need
scarcely pretend ignorance as to the reason of my presence."

"Bless the man!" exclaimed Barbara cheerfully, "does he think his
business is writ large on his brow? I assure you, sir, I know nothing
whatever of the cause of such a visit."

Captain Protheroe raised his eyebrows.

"In that case, madame, I must inform you.  I have certain knowledge that
a fugitive has taken refuge in this house, and it is my intention not to
leave the place until I have found him."

"A most laudable intention, sir, though I fear me it means that you will
remain here for the rest of your natural life.  But pray tell me, how
long has it been the custom for an honourable gentleman to turn
man-hunter?"

The captain reddened angrily.

"It is not a task I would gladly choose, madame, as you might know.  But
I am not here to discuss the virtue of my orders, I am here to search
for this rebel."

"Then in Heaven’s name go and search for him elsewhere. I assure you he
is not here," exclaimed Barbara petulantly.

Captain Protheroe looked at her for a moment questioningly.

"Will you swear to me that such is the truth, madame?" he asked.

Barbara hesitated for a moment.  Then she turned away impatiently and
walked back into the room.

"Nay, an my word be not enough, I will swear nothing. Yet I assure you
the man you seek is not here."

But even as she spoke the words, she stopped with a stifled cry, for in
the centre of the floor lay a man’s hat, stained and draggled, but
serving, with its long plume and jewelled clasp, as an outspoken traitor
to its master.

The captain’s glance fell on the hat at the same moment, and he turned
to Barbara with a questioning smile.  But she had recovered herself in
an instant. Walking coolly forward, she concealed the treacherous hat
beneath her skirt, until with a dexterous movement she swept it out of
sight under the table, while at the same time she unconcernedly (though
a trifle breathlessly) repeated her former statement that the man they
sought was not in the house.

Captain Protheroe, marvelling greatly at a woman’s strangely
discriminating sense of honour, which will permit her to assert a fact
but not to swear to it, smiled at her statement and bowed politely.

"So be it, madame.  Then nought remains save for me to order my men to
commence the search at once, since you so resolutely refuse to give up
the traitor. I am distressed to disturb you, but search I must."

"Marry! sir, then search," cried Barbara, with a sudden suspiciously
hysterical laugh.  "Perchance he lurks behind this curtain, or cowers
beneath the table.  Think you he is concealed in yonder snuff-box, or is
hid beneath my petticoats?  Prithee, search well, for there is no
telling where the rogue may lie," and assuming a mock air of importance
closely resembling that of the corporal, she commenced a solemn
burlesque of the search, hurrying about the room, and carefully
examining the most impossible hiding-places, while the captain bit his
lip to prevent a smile, and the troopers watched her mimicry of their
efforts with embarrassed indignation.

When she had concluded her tour of the room, Barbara turned to the
astonished soldiers and remarked with mock solemnity:

"You see, I am correct, he cannot be here."

"We are deeply indebted to you for this entertainment, madame,"
interrupted the captain with grave politeness.  "Now we will commence
the search in earnest."

The laughter died from Barbara’s face, and a strange hunted look crept
into her eyes.  She glanced round helplessly, as though seeking means of
escape, then casting a pleading glance at the captain, she said in a
trembling voice:

"If you still persist in your error, you must e’en do as you list," and
with a low sigh she turned away and sank wearily into a chair.

Captain Protheroe gave the necessary orders and the corporal and
troopers departed on their errand.  Then he turned doubtfully towards
the girl.

"I am very sorry for this intrusion, Mistress Barbara," he said gently.
"My corporal, who is but a blundering fellow, made these dispositions
while I was away, otherwise, be assured, I should have taken the fellow
before he entered your house."

"Yes, that would have been far easier for you," she answered calmly.

"For you, madame," he corrected her, smiling. "May I hope I am forgiven
for thus doing my duty?"

Barbara directed upon him a beaming smile.

"Why, as to that, sir, ’tis I who must crave forgiveness for my
inhospitality.  I’ faith, seeing he is not here, I know not why I should
be so angry at your visit, I should rather pity such a wild-goose chase.
Is it not so?"

"_If_ he were not here, Mistress Barbara, we should deserve no pity, our
intrusion would be quite unpardonable."

"But I have told you that he is not here," she answered eagerly.

"True.  And I have told you that he is."

Her lips trembled at his resolute tone, and she turned away her head.
But in a moment she answered brightly:

"’Tis clear, sir, this is a most unprofitable subject for discussion,
seeing we shall never agree.  Time must show who is in the right.  In
the meantime we will conclude the matter thus: If he be here, the worse
for him; if he be not here—why, the worse for you.  What say you now?"

"Madame, your argument is unanswerable."

"Then hence with argument, hither with supper. Come, captain, we’ll sign
a truce for the nonce.  If I mistake not, you have had a long ride and
spare rations this evening.  You are well come.  I was about to sup when
you interrupted me, so while your men search the house, you shall bear
me company.  You refuse?  Why, what fear you?  The house is surrounded,
not a creature can escape," she continued bitterly, "and you need not
fear lest the wine be drugged or the meat poisoned, for I, too, intend
to partake of them."

"Ah, madame, those are not the dangers I fear."  He shook his head, with
a smile.

"What, then?"

"Look in your mirror, Mistress Barbara, perchance you will understand."

Barbara gave a sudden, laugh of pleased amusement.

"Nay, sir, I protest I have no desire to bewitch you," she answered with
a bright blush.

"Then, madame, why do you look at me?" asked the captain, and his eyes
said more.

Again the dimple deepened and again the lips curved into a smile.
Captain Protheroe detected himself watching for that dimple with a quite
inexplicable and, considering his errand, inexcusable eagerness.

"Methinks the conversation is astray upon a bye-path," she answered
demurely; "let us return to the high-road.  I am dying of hunger, and
’tis but dreary to sup alone.  Will you not join me?"

As Captain Protheroe had tasted no food since early morning, the offer
was too tempting to be refused.

"Madame, you overwhelm me with kindness," he answered.

She led him to the upper end of the hall, where a table was already laid
with three covers.

"Do you always sup in company with two empty chairs, madame?" he asked
quizzically.

Barbara flushed crimson and hesitated.

"I—I expected friends, sir," she stammered.  Then recovering, she darted
a bright glance at him and continued.  "And you see my expectations have
been fulfilled, for are you not come?"

"Does not another lady dwell here with you?" he queried indifferently.

"Yes—my cousin, Lady Cicely Winslow.  But she—she is out," stammered
Barbara again nervously.

"Ah! so she is sharing the fellow’s hiding-place," muttered the captain
to himself.  "A piece of folly only possible in a couple of lovers."

Throughout the meal Barbara laughed and chatted gaily, evidently
exerting all her efforts to entertain her guest.  She led him on to tell
strange stories of his adventures and his travels, to which she listened
with that eager interest and open admiration of his doings, so dear to
the heart of man; she made him laugh heartily at her quick jests and
saucy answers, and ever and anon as she talked she raised her dark
lashes, and turned upon him the full depths of her wonderful eyes.

But Captain Protheroe was not altogether unversed in the ways of women,
and though he enjoyed to the full the pleasant companionship of her
manner, and drank deep of her beauty, he was in no wise mindful to allow
her charms to turn his thoughts from the matter in hand.

And as he watched her carefully, he noted how from time to time she
would break off abruptly in the middle of a sentence and listen
anxiously to some distant sound in the house, while the smile died from
her face, and her eyes widened with fear.  She twisted her fingers
nervously together as she talked, and her laugh was high and shrill.

"She plays her part admirably," he muttered to himself, "but she should
not show her eyes."

"’Tis strange how falsely that base churl Rumour reports," he began,
when Barbara paused once to listen anxiously to the movements of the
searchers overhead. "Now concerning you, madame, methinks he hath
totally misspoken."

"Why, what saith Rumour concerning me?" questioned Barbara with
interest.

"In the first place," he continued, eyeing her steadily, "he reports
that you are fearless both of men, mice, and devils."

"And what then?" she asked, her eyes flashing proudly.

"Why, I say he is a lying fellow, for I see you are as timid as—as a
woman."

"I, sir, timid!" she cried indignantly.

"Aye, madame, you start and tremble at every sound."

"Nay—I assure you—I—I do not so," she stammered, trembling with
eagerness.  "Why, wherefore should I tremble."

"Nay, I know not, madame.  Save as the poet saith—’A guilty
conscience——’"

"I thank you for the suggestion, sir," she answered with a faint smile.
"I will consult my conscience."

There was a pause, the silence broken only by the distant movements of
the searchers.

"Is there a ghost in the room, madame," asked Captain Protheroe
suddenly.

Barbara started violently.

"A ghost, sir?" she exclaimed.

"Aye, a ghost.  I saw you staring at the wall behind me with so
horrified an expression, methought you beheld an apparition at least,
peeping over my shoulder."

Barbara dropped her head and bit her lip.

"’Twas but my own thoughts.  There is nothing else."

Captain Protheroe wheeled round in his chair, and stared thoughtfully at
the full-length portrait of an old Winslow knight in armour which
confronted him.

"Now what is there in this same old gentleman (for I trust ’twas not my
appearance that had such a horrifying effect upon you), what is there
here to terrify you?"

"Nothing, sir, I assure you," repeated Barbara faintly.

"Yet there is certainly a strange look about this portrait," he mused.
"There is a glint in his eye that mislikes me.  One might almost
believe," he continued, turning towards her, "that he hid some secret
behind that fixed countenance."

Barbara stared at him a moment with terrified face, then she rose
abruptly from the table.

"I—I wish you would leave me, sir," she answered curtly.

"That is a hard saying, madame," he exclaimed in mock astonishment.
"Did not yourself bid me to supper?"

"Yes.  But I am weary of you and now I bid you go."

He laughed quietly.

"That is easily said, madame, but not so easily answered.  I may not——"

He was interrupted by a hurried knock at the outer door.

Barbara gave a slight scream and ran across the hall, but Captain
Protheroe was at the door before her.

"Pardon me, madame, I must see to this," he said sternly.

He flung the door wide, standing himself in its shadow, and Peter Drew,
the smith, rushed quickly into the hall.

"Ah, Mistress Barbara," he exclaimed breathlessly, not noticing her sign
to him to be cautious, "the villain hath escaäped me, and I can’t faind
no traäce of un anywhere."

"Very much my case, my friend," interrupted the captain, shutting the
door quickly, and confronting the astonished smith with a quiet smile.
"But what may be the name of this same escaped villain?"

Peter gasped at him stupidly.

"Come, fellow, out with it," cried the captain sharply.

The smith glanced at Barbara and shook his head.

"I don’t know," he muttered sulkily.

Captain Protheroe turned to Barbara.

"May I—er—advise you, madame, to order this reluctant henchman of yours
to be more speedy in his replies."

"You may tell the captain all you know, Peter," she said after a
moment’s hesitation.  "Methinks ’twill not greatly enlighten him."

"’Tweren’t nobbut a certain hawker, your honour. Her ladyship bid me
keep un zaäfe till marnin’ zo I fastened un oop zafe i’ my farge.  But
when I were awai—er—awai on my biznez thicey marnin’ my waife, plague on
a meddlezome fingers, zay I, muzt needs oppen door, to zee, forzooth,
whai it were zhut, and zo the fellow hath vled."

"Good!  Why was this hawker to be thus secured?"

"He had angered me, sir," interrupted Barbara haughtily.

"Ah! summary justice, madame," answered the captain, laughing.  "But
hardly, methinks, within the measure of the law."

"I care nought for the law."

"So I can well believe.  But come, I must know a little more concerning
this hawker."

"That you cannot, sir," answered Barbara calmly. "For the simple reason
that Peter knows no more, and I, who do know, do not purpose to tell
you."

Captain Protheroe hesitated a moment.  Then he continued lightly, but
eyeing Barbara steadily the while:

"Ah, well!  ’Tis of small import.  Doubtless it will not be difficult to
find the fellow himself and learn all I wish from his own lips."

Barbara’s face grew suddenly white.

"Yet another man to search for," she exclaimed lightly, but with a
strange hoarseness in her voice.  "I’ faith, captain, yours is no easy
post.  It must indeed be a wearisome life to seek and seek for that
which like the philosopher’s stone, is never to be found."

They were startled by a sudden clamour which arose in a distant part of
the building, the clatter of pans and dishes, the angry shouts of the
men, and above all the shrill voice of a woman pouring forth a torrent
of furious abuse.

"What in the devil’s name——" began the captain, striding across the
room.

"Oh! ’tis nothing," interrupted Barbara coolly. "Your men have doubtless
encountered my waiting-woman, Phoebe.  She is somewhat hot and hasty in
her humour and—I am sorry for them."

As she spoke the door was flung open and the corporal rushed angrily
into the room.  He was a miserable sight to behold.  His head was
saturated with greasy broth which dripped from the ends of his scrubby
hair and beard and trickled down his rubicund countenance; he was
covered from head to foot with flour and dust, and he held his hand
pitiably to his temple where a large bump, the size of an egg, was
rapidly rising, to embellish his appearance.

Behind him marched Phoebe, weaponed with a besom, her face blazing with
anger, her hair dishevelled, and her sleeves rolled up to her shoulders,
showing the brawny arms of this amazon.

At sight of this couple, Barbara fell back into a chair, and laughed
till her eyes filled with tears.

"My poor Sir Knight of the Whipcord," she gasped. "What hath befallen
thee?  Ah me, Phoebe, but thou art a very dragon!"

"A very devil," spluttered the corporal.

"Devil in thy teeth, fellow!" cried the enraged waiting-woman.
"Mistress Barbara, what think ye? this fellow hath tramped through every
hole and corner of the house; he hath rent the hangings, broken the
chiny, forced open the closets, and made the place a very desolation.
And then—then he was for trapesing into my kitchen, my kitchen that I
had but just redd up, with his great muddy boots, to poke his nose into
all my places, because, forsooth, he swears I have a man hid among the
pots and pans!  A man, indeed! The meddlesome fool!  I warrant me ’tis
no man, but the victuals that he is in search of."

"Patience, good Phoebe, patience," laughed Barbara. "As thou sayest
ever, men are but fools and know no better."

"Humph!  Mayhap they knew no better, but they know better now, I
warrant.  Though it repents me that I wasted the whole of a good basin
of broth and a bag of flour i’ the teaching of it."

Meanwhile Corporal Crutch, having mopped his brow, and beaten off much
of his outer covering of flour, made shift to resume his customary air
of pompous dignity.

"This woman, sir," he explained with a wave of the hand in the direction
of Phoebe, "withstood us in the doorway of her kitchen, powerfully
ammunitioned with pannikins.  ’Twas, indeed, a post of some vantage,
therefore I deemed it wisdom to lead her off, as you behold, by a
feigned retreat, while the men make a flank attack, and secure the
position by entering through the window."

On hearing this Phoebe set up a howl of rage, and disappeared speedily
in the direction of the kitchen, to oust the intruders from the spot.
The sounds of battle which presently arose proved the success of the
corporal’s manoeuvre.

Captain Protheroe drew the corporal aside.

"Well!  You have searched?"

"Aye, sir, every nook and cranny in the place.  Not a rat’s hole has
escaped us.  He must be hid somewhere in this room, for there’s no other
place unsearched."

"’Tis very like, and I think I can put my finger on the place," answered
the captain softly.

Barbara looked up.

"Well, captain, if you are satisfied that I have spoken the truth,
perhaps you will take your leave, for I protest I am weary of you."

"One moment, madame," he answered, "I will but examine into the secret
of this same cross-eyed ancestor of thine, and then you shall be no
further troubled."

He turned, as he spoke, towards the picture, but Barbara sprang to her
feet with a sharp cry, and darting past him, placed her back against the
frame and turned to him full of defiance.

"Nay, sir, that you shall not," she cried resolutely.

Corporal Crutch paused in his search, and gazed at her in open-mouthed
astonishment, but Captain Protheroe strode quickly to her side with a
sharp frown.

"Come, madame," he began impatiently, "this is sheer folly.  We must
proceed with our work.  I do, indeed, regret the painful business, but
by your leave we will not prolong it.  Be so good as to show me the
secret of the spring."

"I will not."

"Then, madame, we must open it by force."

"You shall not pass me," she cried defiantly.  "I will not move aside."

Captain Protheroe swore in desperation.

"Come, Mistress Barbara, be reasonable," he urged. "You know well that
resistance is quite useless.  I were loth to use violence, but an it
must be so, methinks it were possible to move you without much injury to
either of us."

Suddenly Barbara began to cry, leaning her head back against the frame
and sobbing bitterly.  But she did not cover her face with her hands as
is the manner of most women.

"Oh, go away, I beseech you," she pleaded, clasping her hands in
entreaty, and raising tearful eyes to his face.  "Rupert hath done you
no injury, suffer him to escape this once, and I will be your debtor
forever."

Captain Protheroe stared down at her, wondering vaguely whether her eyes
looked more lovely when bright with merriment, or when wide and soft
with welling tears, and why he had never before noticed how inviting was
a full quivering lip.  Then suddenly recollecting the unprofitableness
of such considerations, he glanced indignantly at the corporal and swore
at him beneath his breath.

"You are making my duty very hard for me, madame," he pleaded gently.

"I—I want to," she sobbed.  "Please go away."

"No, Mistress Barbara, I cannot," he answered firmly.

Barbara stopped her sobs and stared at him for a moment in astonishment.
Then she suddenly turned on him furiously.

"You will not?  You will not?" she cried.  "Then have your way.  See
what lies concealed."

She pressed a small button cunningly hidden amid the carving of the
frame, and the portrait slipped back, revealing a large recess in the
wall, deep enough to hold three men.

The recess was empty.

The two men stared at each other in utter astonishment, but Barbara
flung herself into a chair, clapped her hands, and burst into a paroxysm
of laughter.

"Fooled!  Fooled!" she cried, pointing at them mockingly.  "Was ever
man, since the days of Adam, so bravely fooled.  Oh!  I shall die of
laughter," and again the room rang with her merriment.

Captain Protheroe turned to her grimly.

"Pardon my dulness, madame," he said harshly, "and be so kind as to
explain what this means."

"Means!  Why, marry, it means that I have spoken truly.  Rupert is not
here, moreover, he never has been. Have I not said so throughout."

"Not here?  Impossible!  Then these tremblings, entreaties, tears were
all——"

"All a comedy, sir, which I trust you enjoyed as greatly as did I.  Oh!
tell me, sir, should I not make a brave player?"  She danced a few steps
towards him and dropped a mocking curtsey.  "I await your applause,
signors," she cried with a saucy laugh.

Captain Protheroe strode the length of the room and swore to himself
heartily, but Corporal Crutch was not so easily convinced.

"’Tis false, sir," he cried.  "She is fooling us again. Why I saw the
fellow enter, myself."

"That you did not, corporal, an I may make so bold as to contradict
you," laughed Barbara.  "Though I wouldn’t deny," she added solemnly,
"the possibility of your having seen someone enter."

"Aye, someone hailed by the name of ’Rupert,’" sneered the corporal.

"What’s in a name?" quoted Barbara, laughing.

"Whom did he see, then?" demanded Captain Protheroe sharply.

"How should I know?" she retorted cheerfully. "’Twas not I who saw him.
Ask the corporal."

"An ’twere not Sir Rupert, ’twas the devil himself in his likeness.  I
saw him as plain as I see you.  He is the very counterpart of yon wench,
his sister."

"That is true enough," answered Barbara calmly. "We be so alike that
times have been known when we were mistaken for each other.  And yet I
will swear ’twas not Rupert whom you saw."

"Will you have the goodness to explain the matter, madame?" interrupted
the Captain impatiently.

"With all my heart, sir, though ’tis a somewhat lengthy tale.  Know
then, it commences with a stout corporal but half concealed behind a
large laurel bush. Ah, ha!  Sir Whipcord, you look guilty!  Now this
same corporal was a spy and an eavesdropper, and eavesdroppers must not
be surprised if at times they overhear that which _is_ intended for
their ears.  ’Twas so in this case.  The corporal, who bore a strange
resemblance to this gentleman, overheard a pretty little plot, discussed
especially for his edification, he stole and read a cunning little note,
written for his eyes alone. Being a gentleman of extraordinary
blindness, he walked into the trap as prettily as a bird.  The rest was
simple.  It remained but to send a messenger, whom your soldiers kindly
permitted to pass, to inform Rupert of our arrangements.  Cicely and I,
disguised but in linsey petticoats and woollen hoods (’tis passing
strange how dress can make or mar a man) went down to the village this
afternoon, and later I—I returned, alone.  Perchance—I say perchance,
’twas I whom your corporal saw enter; and yet, sure, how could it be?"

"And your cousin?"

"Cicely?  Oh, she is away passing the evening with Rupert, who, thanks
to the corporal’s kind thoughtfulness, in withdrawing all his men from
the roads and the village, was enabled to visit her with perfect safety
at a certain house we wot of.  But, indeed, the time has passed so
quickly while you have been here, that he will by now have returned
whence he came, and I fear—I greatly fear you have missed him."

Then at last Corporal Crutch, convinced of the truth of her statement,
opened his mouth and commenced to swear; to swear so roundly that
Barbara covered her ears, and Captain Protheroe curtly bade him be
silent.

"’Tis thine own doing, thou blundering fool," he said angrily.
"Wherefore didst not follow the messenger and trap the fellow in his
hiding-place?"

"Nay, captain, give me some credit for the business," interposed Barbara
cheerily.  "’Twas a most excellently conceived plan.  And yet," she
mused, "I doubt if ever men were more easily fooled."

"And may I ask, madame, what part in the plot this evening’s
entertainment served?"

"Oh that!  Well, I cannot say that was altogether necessary, though I
desired to keep you here till Rupert was safe away.  But," she added
roguishly, "’twas vastly amusing.  And besides, methinks you deserved no
better treatment after forcing your way thus churlishly into a lone
woman’s house."

Captain Protheroe turned brusquely on his heel.

"There is nothing further to be gained by remaining here, corporal," he
said.  "Call up the men and march them back to quarters.  And as for
this fellow," he added, pointing to the smith, who had watched the scene
with deep enjoyment, "keep him safe till morning; we may have need of
him."

"And what of the wench, captain?  Can’t we lay hands on her for aiding
and abetting?"

Captain Protheroe scowled.

"Leave me to deal with her, sirrah.  I will follow you anon.  And
harkee.  There is a certain hawker wandering in or near the village.
Yon fellow can describe him. If we can lay hands on him, I doubt not he
can tell us what may prove useful."

Corporal Crutch started guiltily.

"A hawker, captain?  Why, I know the fellow.  I have him safe under—that
is—er—I doubt not I can speedily lay hands on him."

"Do so.  See to it to-night, and we may yet catch our hare.  Now
begone."

The corporal saluted and went out.

Captain Protheroe glanced at Barbara, and he saw that no trace of her
triumphant merriment remained.

He turned and walked to the window and stood for some time in silence
gazing out into the darkness while the last echoes of the retreating
footsteps died away. Then all was still.



                             *CHAPTER VII*


Captain Protheroe stood gazing out into the dark night, asking himself
savagely why he still waited there, why he did not leave the girl at
once and return with his men to the village, preparatory to setting out
in pursuit of this man who still escaped them.

It was clearly his duty to go—and yet——  There was still time, nothing
could be done until the hawker was discovered, and his secret, whatever
it might be, was learned.  And in the meantime he could not resist the
temptation to remain a little longer, to learn more of this girl who,
while she mocked and flouted, yet fascinated him in spite of his anger
against her.  To punish her a little for the way she had outwitted him,
aye, and to watch how she bore the punishment.  So while he cursed
himself for a fool in so doing, yet he remained.

Barbara sat bolt upright, watching him furtively with eager eyes.  Her
hands were tightly clenched, and her lips pressed together in anxious
thought.  "Oh! what shall I do now?" she murmured again and again
desperately.  "What shall I do?  The pedlar hath escaped.  I have tried
tears, they are useless.  Oh, God! help me to play out the game."

At last he turned, and crossing the room seated himself beside her.
Leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees, he eyed her
steadily and spoke in a low even voice.  "Mistress Barbara, have you
ever heard tell of a certain Mistress Alice Lisle?"

Barbara shuddered quickly, and her face grew very pale, but she answered
him bravely:

"Aye, sir, she who was beheaded last week at Winchester for harbouring
rebels."

"Good.  And hast also heard of Mistress Judith Barge, condemned to be
flogged for a like act of treason?"

"Indeed, sir, her story likewise is well known to me."

"Ah! so you were forewarned.  You did not act in ignorance of the fate
awaiting you?"

His face and voice were hard and her heart beat wildly, but she fought
the rising fear and answered proudly:

"Captain Protheroe, none but a fool goeth to war without counting the
cost.  I am no fool, sir."

Suddenly his whole bearing changed, his face softened, and, raising her
hand to his lips he said gently:

"Madame, I salute the bravest lady I have ever known."

Barbara flushed crimson.

"Nay, not so, sir," she answered, smiling bravely, "for there is yet a
third story I have heard.  For I have heard that in these last days it
has been everywhere the custom for king’s officers stationed in our
villages to take up their quarters in the houses of the rebels, driving
forth the occupants and taking unto themselves all their goods.  Yet
Cicely and I have remained here undisturbed.  So I knew well, sir, that
in playing my part I had to deal with no Kirke or Jeffries but with a
gentleman of heart and honour, in whom a woman could place her trust."

"Can so small a matter win a woman’s trust?" he asked doubtfully.

For an instant Barbara sat silent, twining her fingers together
nervously, and breathing hard.  She was preparing for her last great
stake.

Then she turned to him.  Her eyes betrayed her fear, but her voice was
firm:

"Captain Protheroe, my brother lieth hid in the fisherman’s hut, three
miles eastward along the coast from Watchet.  From thence he will escape
to-morrow morn in a vessel bound for Holland."

He sprang to his feet and turned on her in sudden anger.

"In Heaven’s name, madame, why have you told me this?"

"Ah! sir, because an I had not you would have learned it elsewhere.
This mad pedlar who hath escaped me, knows my secret; to-night he will
betray it to you.  So I prefer to tell you myself and throw myself on
your mercy."

"You play high, madame."

"Aye, sir, to lose or to win all."

He turned from her and paced the room angrily.  So this was the result
of his effort to punish the girl (fool that he was to try it), she flung
herself on his mercy and challenged him to betray her confidence.  Well,
why should he not, seeing the confidence was given unasked. But his
pride loathed the thought.  He had never yet betrayed a woman’s trust;
the chivalry of his nature had remained unsoiled by the cynicism and
callousness of those among whom he lived, and that chivalry now forbade
him to profit by her moment of confidence.

That he, Miles Protheroe, should fall a prey to the fascinations of a
woman!  He laughed savagely at the thought.  And yet that this girl
fascinated him he could not deny.  Not only by her beauty (he was too
much a connoisseur of woman’s looks to be deeply moved by them), nor by
her gaiety, infectious though it was; no, to him the charm lay chiefly
in her manifest courage, for courage was his God, and she seemed the
very personification of fearlessness.

So he mused, warring betwixt pride, anger, and tenderness, while Barbara
sat still, watching him with a desperate eagerness.

"Are you a soldier only, or a man?" she pleaded. "An ye be the first, go
do your work.  But oh, an ye be a man, ye cannot sure betray a woman’s
confidence."

"You have taken an unfair advantage of me, madame, and you know it."

"Aye, sir, ’tis true enough.  Think not I feel no shame. But—Rupert is
my brother."

Her voice broke piteously over the last words.  She was worn out with
the terror and excitement of the day, and could scarce keep down her
tears.  She bit her lips, and her breast heaved with a strangled sob.
He drew near and stared down at her gloomily.

"So because you are a woman and this rebel chances to be your brother,
my honour must go bail for his life! Do you understand, Mistress
Barbara, what you ask of me?"

For an instant she hesitated.  Then she raised her head and turned to
him proudly:

"Yes, sir, I understand, and—I ask it."

He bowed.

"So be it, madame, your brother is safe from me."

He turned coldly, and taking up his hat, walked to the door.

Barbara followed him timidly.

"Captain Protheroe," she pleaded softly.  "Honour may be one of the
first virtues, but there is a greater even than Honour,—Charity."

But now his anger mastered him, he would not relent.

"It may be so, madame," he answered curtly.  "But in your presence I
find the defence of my Honour more than I can well attend to.  I bid you
good-night."

And turning abruptly he left the house.

Barbara remained gazing after him, her cheek slowly flushing with rage
and shame.

"And has not a woman honour too?" she cried at last fiercely.  "Am I not
dishonoured enough already by this night’s work that he must needs fling
his taunts in my face?  There be women, perchance, who will play with
men’s honour as lightly as they throw the dice, and he may think it a
little thing for me to ask this of him, but oh, were it not for Rupert I
had sooner have died than thus have shamed myself."

Flinging herself back into a chair she gnawed her clasped hands, and
beat her foot upon the ground in silent fury.

Half an hour later the door opened softly and Cicely stole cautiously
into the room, Cicely with dishevelled hair, red eyelids, and her face
alight with eagerness and terror.

"Barbara!  Barbara!" she cried, coming eagerly forward, on seeing the
room unoccupied save by her cousin. "The village is all astir, the
troopers are busy looking to their horses, and David Marlow hath heard
that on his return to the Inn, the Captain gave orders that they be
ready to start on some expedition at three o’clock in the morning.
Think you, Barbara, he can have heard even now of Rupert’s hiding-place?
Or think you they will intercept his return.  He left me but half an
hour since.  Speak, cannot you?"

Barbara looked up slowly, her face very pale.  "Aye, he hath heard, I
told him myself."

"Barbara!  Art thou mad, child?"

"Indeed I verily believe I am," she answered in a dazed voice.  Then
collecting her thoughts she told her cousin all that had passed in her
interview with the captain.  "Think you, Cicely," she continued
nervously, "after that it were possible that he has betrayed me?"

"Possible!" cried Cicely in a voice of scorn and fury. "Why, thou little
fool, ’tis the man’s profession to spy and snare and betray us.  Oh!
Barbara, how could you be so rash, so wicked?  Now ’tis too late to save
him."

Barbara roused herself.

"Nay, Cicely, I will not believe that of him.  I have his promise.  He
is a hard man, but he will assuredly keep his word; he would never
betray my trust."

"Oh, thou art bewitched by his fair words.  Nay, speak not to me.  I
will go pray, ’tis all that is left for me now."

Sobbing bitterly she left the room.

Barbara sat upright in her chair, clenching the arms with her hands and
gazing straight before her.

"An he dare to do it?" she murmured under her breath.  Then she sprang
suddenly to her feet.  "He _shall_ not do it," she cried.  "I must to
the village—there is no other way.  And yet,—sure,—nay, I cannot. Bah!
I have shamed myself once before him, what matter an I do it once
again!"



                             *CHAPTER VIII*


Captain Protheroe strode thoughtfully up and down his room at the Inn,
puffing furiously at his pipe and staring at the floor.

On his return from his interview with Barbara he had found awaiting him
an order to proceed at once to Taunton, and in the yard without he could
hear his men still busy with preparations for their early start on the
morrow.  But though wearied in body with his long day’s work the captain
felt no inclination for sleep, and, his thoughts still busily occupied
with the events of the past few hours, he passed the time pacing his
room.  His promise once given, he was not the man to waste many regrets
upon what was passed, yet as he thought over the affair his brows
puckered into a frown, and he ground the stem of his pipe savagely
between his teeth. To wink at the escape of a rebel was indeed no great
matter in those days.  He knew well to what extent corruption and
bribery were rife among his fellow officers and how few would hesitate
to allow a rebel to slip through their hands could they thereby help to
line their pockets.  From the Lord Chief Justice downwards the custom
was openly practised.  Even the Queen’s maids of honour, delicate women
whose sensibilities were wrung by the death of a beetle, and who would
have swooned at the idea of crushing a moth, even they openly trafficked
in pardons, and complained bitterly when the life ransoms extracted from
the impoverished friends of the prisoners failed to satisfy their
demands.  But hitherto Captain Protheroe had prided himself upon keeping
his fingers clean amid such general corruption, and it enraged him to
feel that at last he too had succumbed.  Not indeed for a bribe’s sake,
but because a woman believed him worthy of her trust and his pride would
not allow him to betray it.

But was it in truth for that reason alone?  Might not it also be because
the woman was possessed of a pair of wonderful eyes and knew how to use
them?

"Bah!" he muttered angrily, pausing to knock the ashes from his pipe.
"How a woman may play the deuce with a man’s work!"  Then drawing from
his pocket a small bow of scarlet ribbon, he gazed at it for a few
moments with a strange expression on his face, and with a short laugh
flung it from him into a corner of the room and resumed his promenade.

He was interrupted at length by a loud knock at the door, and at his
summons Corporal Crutch entered to say that after diligent search he had
discovered the missing pedlar, and that the fellow confessed to having
certain matters of import to make known to the captain alone.  The
corporal had no desire that Captain Protheroe should hear of his first
interview with Simon, feeling that his customary acuteness had slightly
failed him on that occasion, and after a vain attempt to extract some
information on his own account from the sulky pedlar, he was at length
forced to hand the man over to his superior officer, threatening him
first, however, with dire penalties should he breathe a word concerning
their previous encounter.

"Bring the fellow in, I will see him," answered the captain, on learning
that the pedlar was without.

The order was obeyed and the hawker, glancing furtively from side to
side, was pushed rather than ushered into the room.

"Well, my man," Began Captain Protheroe, eyeing him sharply, "what is
your business with me?"

"An it please your honour, I have information to sell to your honour
concerning the hiding-place of a certain rebel."

"To sell to me!" answered the captain sternly.  "It is not for a loyal
subject of his Majesty to drive bargains with his officers.  We do not
buy information, we exact it."

The manner in which these words were uttered caused the hawker to modify
his tone.

"May it please your honour," he whimpered, "is there no reward for the
arrest of a rebel?"

"If your information be correct, and above all of value (which I greatly
doubt), you shall have such money for your services as they deserve.
Now for your story, and waste no more of my time."

Thus driven to a corner and moved as much by desire of vengeance as by
greed of gold, the hawker related how he had received the letter from
Sir Rupert Winslow, and the information it contained.

"Then the ladies know nought of the matter as yet?" enquired the
captain.

"Nothing whatever, your honour."

"But this letter—where is it?"

"I—I have mislaid it, sir—but——"

"You are lying to me, knave," interrupted the captain coldly.  "By
Heaven! an I find you trying to deceive me you shall taste o’ the rope’s
end before an hour is passed."

The hawker cowered before such a prospect, and discovering after much
protestation and evasion that the captain evidently knew more of the
matter than he had expected, he decided to tell the truth.  Thereupon he
gave a full account of the transaction, up to the time of his escape
from the smithy, omitting only (out of respect for the Corporal’s
threats) to refer to his interview with that worthy.

Captain Protheroe listened attentively to the narrative, smiling
slightly at the complaint of Barbara’s treatment.  When it was ended he
turned coldly on Simon.

"That will do.  You can go."

"But the reward, your honour," began the hawker nervously.

The captain eyed him sternly.

"An I had my will with you, fellow, you should to the pillory as a thief
and extortioner.  But as, in this world, a rogue must be paid for his
roguery, take your liberty and deem it meet reward for information which
I received an hour since.  Be off with you."

The hawker, with a deep, heartfelt curse, shuffled out of the room.

"I would that I had seen her braving the fellow," muttered the captain
as he recharged his pipe.

So engrossed was he in his meditations that he paid no heed to a sudden
clamour in the yard without, and he sprang to his feet with an oath of
astonishment when the door was flung wide open, and the corporal burst
violently into the room.

"We have him, captain!" he cried, almost dancing with eagerness, "we
have him at last, the very fellow himself.  Caught as clean as a bird in
a net."

"What means this, sirrah?" interrupted the captain sharply.  "Art mad,
or drunk; or both together?"

The corporal’s face fell.  He pulled himself together and saluted in a
somewhat crestfallen fashion.

"Your pardon, captain," he continued more calmly. "But an it please you,
we have taken Sir Rupert Winslow himself."

It was now Captain Protheroe’s turn to betray excitement.

"Taken Sir Rupert Winslow!  Why, fellow, ’tis impossible.  You are
dreaming."

"Dreaming or no," answered the corporal sulkily, "he is without.  We
spied him skulking round the stables to the back o’ the Inn.  I doubt
not wi’ intent to steal a fresh horse.  There we ambushed him.  He made
a fierce resistance, but," with an air of supreme complaisance, "I soon
overpowered him."

"The devil take the rash fool!" muttered the captain. "Well, bring him
in, corporal.  And do you see that the men get to rest, we must be off
at daybreak to-morrow.  I will see to the security of the prisoner."

The corporal saluted, and a moment later ushered his prisoner into the
room.

Captain Protheroe looked up curiously at his entrance, and for some
minutes silently surveyed him, until the prisoner, weary of such intent
scrutiny, tossed his hat on to the table, and flung himself back into a
chair with a half-embarrassed, half-reckless air.

The captain broke the silence.

"This is a strange ending, sir, to so lengthy a chase," he said gravely.

"Ah, well! ’twas bound to end sooner or later, and as well this way as
another," he answered with a short laugh.  "In truth, ’twas a hole and
corner business, and I am weary of it."

"You have been to visit your sister at the Manor House?" queried the
captain.

The prisoner looked up haughtily.

"My past movements are my own affairs, sir; you and I are concerned with
the present alone."

"I take you, sir," answered the captain quietly. "Moreover, I understand
the reason of your presence here, and I honour you for it.  It is
irregular, of course, but under the circumstances, I cannot refuse to
give you every satisfaction."

"Satisfaction!" exclaimed the prisoner in astonishment.

"Aye, sir.  You doubtless understand me."

"Not I.  I have no personal quarrel with you, that I know of."

"No quarrel!  Then am I wrong in supposing you to be the brother of
Mistress Barbara Winslow?"

"And what then, sir," demanded the prisoner sharply. "What of her?"

Captain Protheroe shrugged his shoulders.

"Ah!  I see I am mistaken," he replied.  "I deemed, sir, you had
ventured hither in order to seek me and to demand satisfaction for my
behaviour towards your sister.  But since——"

"Will you have the goodness to explain, sir," interrupted the prisoner
fiercely.

The captain smiled calmly.

"Egad!  I confess ’twas a somewhat low piece of work.  But the wench was
so exasperating and withal so pretty.  And I give you my word," he added
with a cynical laugh, "she showed no over-great reluctance to my
kisses."

The prisoner sprang to his feet, his fists clenched, his eyes blazing
with passion.

"May Heaven have mercy on you, sir, but ’tis a most dastardly lie."

"Heaven will need have mercy on you my friend, if you give the lie so
freely," answered the captain coldly. "But perchance you are willing to
fight now, sir, unless"—with a laugh—"you have smaller regard for your
sister’s reputation than I surmised."

"Now, by Heaven! you shall swallow your words," cried the youth, white
with fury.

Captain Protheroe rose.

"I am at your service," he answered coolly.  "I have two rapiers handy,
there is no time like the present, and as for place, why this chamber
will serve as well as anywhere."

The prisoner bowed assent, and after a moment’s hesitation flung off his
cloak and turned to take his rapier.

"One moment, sir," continued the captain.  "Seeing that I am in no
manner bound to grant you, my prisoner, this satisfaction, before I
indulge you there is one stipulation I would make."

"Name it."

"That the encounter be _à entrance_."  Then seeing his opponent
hesitate, he continued:

"Mark me, sir.  An the advantage be mine, you shall have your choice of
meeting death by my hand presently, or on the gallows some few weeks
hence.  If, on the other hand, the victory fall to you, you will
doubtless use the opportunity to regain your freedom, and since my life
must go bail for your safe-keeping, I claim the right to a similar
choice.  If you refuse these conditions I must withdraw the privilege I
would confer."

"Have it as you will."  cried the prisoner impatiently.

"Draw then, and defend yourself."

They took their positions and the blades crossed.

After the first few passes a look of surprise crept into Captain
Protheroe’s eyes as he realised his adversary’s skill.  He, himself, had
studied the art in many countries, and knew that few swordsmen in
England were his equal, yet he found this youth no mean opponent. From
the outset he felt no doubt of the result—a skilled swordsman soon
gauges the extent of his adversary’s powers.

As for the prisoner, after the first fierce attack his fury subsided,
and he steadied himself to parry with eager watchfulness the captain’s
point.  His eye was quick, his wrist supple, and he was well practised
in the art.  But he lacked strength.  Slowly he was driven backward,
backward, across the room, till at length he was fighting with his foot
pressed against the wall. Even then he showed no fear, nor relaxed for
an instant his resolute defence.  Suddenly the captain’s wrist seemed to
relax its merciless strain and with a quick movement the prisoner had
twisted the blade from his grasp and it flew with a clatter among the
furniture of the room.

Captain Protheroe clasped his hands behind his back, and fixing his eyes
full on his opponent’s face waited what should follow.

The prisoner stood for a space staring at him in silence, the expression
of his face changing from astonishment to triumph, from triumph to deep
dismay. Then he dropped the point of his rapier and turned away.

[Illustration: "HE DROPPED THE POINT OF HIS RAPIER AND TURNED AWAY"]

"’Tis enough, I am satisfied."

"But pardon me, sir, I am not," answered Captain Protheroe drily.
"Methinks you have forgotten my stipulation."

The prisoner bit his lip and answered coldly: "I do not choose to comply
with it; nor do I hold with such folly."

"’Tis a pity you did not express that opinion before, sir.  Yet there
remains no choice for you.  I prefer death by the sword to death by the
scaffold.  I am ready.  You will therefore carry out our contract at
once, or forfeit all claim to be counted a man of honour."

The prisoner flushed angrily and once more raised his rapier.  But
meeting the quiet smile and steady gaze of his opponent he dropped the
weapon upon the table and turned away.

"You must wait.  I cannot kill you now."

"Your reason, sir?"

"I—I am not in a killing humour."

Captain Protheroe’s lips twitched, but he answered gravely:

"Then may I beg you, sir, to overcome your humour without delay."

The prisoner breathed quickly and was silent.

Then Captain Protheroe laughed quietly.  "Ah, well! from time immemorial
women have loved to delay their _coup-de-grâce_.  You but carry out the
traditions of your sex, madame."

The prisoner turned to the captain a pair of wide blue eyes filled with
horrified amazement.

"Ah!  I thought I could not be mistaken, Mistress Barbara," continued
the captain, smiling.  "Pray be seated, you must be worn out with
fatigue."

Barbara sank unresisting into the chair he pushed forward, and drooped
her head in silence.

"May I ask, madame, to what cause I owe the honour of this visit?"
queried the captain politely.

"Cicely said—we thought——" she began.  Then recovering herself she
continued firmly.  "I had a suspicion that you might play me false, and
might even now be about to set out to arrest Rupert."

"Indeed!  So you affected this—er—disguise to prevent our departure.  Is
it so, madame?"

"I knew no other way," muttered Barbara.

"I gave you my word."

"Aye, but I liked not the manner in which you gave it.  You—you angered
me."

"That is a pity," he answered quietly.  Then seating himself on the edge
of the table beside her, he eyed her coolly, and continued with a slight
drawl.  "Ah, well! the resemblance is certainly a strong one.  Sir
Rupert, methinks, is a trifle broader in the chest, and—there be one or
two more details," he added, slowly surveying her figure.

Barbara drooped her head still lower, and flushed angrily at the veiled
insolence of his tone.

"You will wonder how I noted the difference," continued the captain.
"The fact is, as I was riding home alone, after my visit to the Manor
House, I chanced to encounter the real Sir Rupert, and we had some
conversation together."

"You met Rupert!" cried Barbara, forgetting all in her astonishment.
"Oh! where is he?"

"He should by this well-nigh have reached the coast."

"Alone?"

"Alone, madame."

"So you have kept your promise?" she cried in amazement.

"Yes, Mistress Barbara, strange though it may seem to you, I have.  It
is a pity you did not trust me, you would have spared yourself the
inconvenience of this—masquerade."

The covert sneer in his tone stung her to a sudden anger.

"And why should I trust you?" she cried haughtily. "You are my enemy."

"I was your enemy, madame, but I had believed myself now to have some
claim upon your trust and friendship."

"I see not upon what you base such a belief," she answered still in
anger.

"Why else, madame, think you, did I set your brother free?"

"I have but your word concerning that transaction," she answered
scornfully.  "You were alone when you encountered Rupert."

"Certainly.  What follows?"

"My brother, Captain Protheroe, hath his sword."

"A sword!" he laughed.  "Why so have I, madame."

"Verily, sir," she answered with a mocking laugh, "yonder it lies."

Captain Protheroe, in astonishment, glanced from her face of triumph to
the distant corner where lay his discarded rapier.

"Damnation!" he muttered with a short angry laugh. "I had forgot."

"Aye, so I thought, sir," she answered, smiling scornfully.  "And my
brother is a better swordsman than I. Yet ’twas a prettily conceived
story."

"Mistress Barbara, in good truth, I swear——"

"I have already heard more oaths this evening than I am accustomed to,"
she interrupted.  "I will not trouble you to further tax your powers.  I
wish you good-evening, sir."

She rose to depart, but he stepped quickly before her, and leaned his
back against the door.

"A moment, madame, I beg," he said, his voice harsh with anger.  "Since
it has pleased you to withdraw your trust in me, I see not that I am any
longer bound to respect your confidence.  ’Tis but an hour since I
parted from Sir Rupert.  He can yet be overtaken."

Barbara raised a terrified face to his.

"Oh, no!  You could not do that," she said.

"And wherefore not?"

"Oh, because—because——" she faltered.

"Well, madame, your reason?" he demanded again harshly.

Barbara flung up her head defiantly, and snatching her rapier from the
table raised the point to his breast.

"Because, sir, by your own showing," she replied, facing him boldly,
"your life is now mine, to do with as I will.  Make one motion towards
my brother’s undoing, and I swear by Heaven I will run you through as
blithely as ever I ran needle into cloth."

For a space they stood thus, she with face alight with excitement, he
staring down with astonished admiration into her blazing eyes.

Then he laughed quietly.

"Pardon me, Mistress Barbara," he said, eyeing her coolly.  "Your
doublet is awry."

Instantly she dropped her rapier, her hands flew to her waist, she
looked down in deep consternation.  All her newborn resolution had
vanished, she was but a woman once more.

"My doublet is not your concern, sir," she muttered.

"Your pardon, madame," he answered pleasantly. "I should in truth have
thought a doublet rather my concern than yours; but as you will.  If you
prefer to wear it thus, of course——"

"I—I knew not exactly how it should be worn," she faltered, glancing
doubtfully at her figure.  Then recollecting herself she continued
angrily.  "My dress is my own affair, sir.  Why should I not play the
Rosalind, an it so please me?"

"No reason whatever, Mistress Barbara," he continued lightly.  "I can
only rejoice at my good fortune in being present at the performance.  By
my faith, the dress becomes you wondrous well."  And again he submitted
her to a critical survey from head to foot.

Her head drooped, her breast heaved, and turning suddenly from him she
sank into a chair and burying her face in her outstretched arms upon the
table, she burst into bitter sobs.

Captain Protheroe regarded her doubtfully.

"Woman’s last weapon?" he queried with a cynical laugh.

The sobs redoubled in force; they shook her whole body.

"Come, come!" he protested roughly, "this is useless, madame.  I have
already once this evening had the pleasure of seeing your tears; I know
their value. Besides, you should bear in mind your character; tears are
ill-suited to doublet and hose."

Still she sobbed on, unheeding.

He moved impatiently and hummed a tune which quickly wandered away into
incoherence.  "I would I knew if it were counterfeit," he muttered.

Still she wept, with quick-drawn breath, and short, gasping, helpless
sobs, very terrible to a man’s ears.

He took two steps towards her, and then paused. "No," he muttered.  "I
will not.  She hath already duped me twice, I will be hanged if I let
her do so again. ’Tis but counterfeit."

He turned from her resolutely and seating himself with his back to her
waited stolidly until she should see fit to relinquish this last design.

Minute after minute passed.  Soon the sobs died away.

"Ah, good!" he thought with a smile.  "So my lady has decided to try
another plan."

He waited impatiently for her next move.  There was no sound in the room
save an occasional sobbing gasp.

At last he could wait no longer, but rising quickly hurried to her side.
Her eyes were closed and she lay very still.  Then he listened for the
regular breathing. There was no doubt of the matter, she was asleep,
asleep as peacefully as an infant.

"So it was no counterfeit," he muttered slowly; "she hath sobbed herself
to sleep.  What a brute she must think me!  What a brute I am!"

He stood close beside her gazing down at the graceful yielding figure,
at the dark lashes curling on to the flushed, tear-stained cheeks, at
the rosy half-opened mouth, at the loose mass of hair framing her
perfect face.  His breath came fast, his heart beat quickly.

Suddenly he turned from her and hurried from the room, locking the door
behind him.  Away from the room, away from the Inn, away to the
river-bordered meadow behind.  And there he paced the night through,
puffing unconsciously at an unlighted pipe, until the first rays of dawn
softened the sky.

Before he set out he crept once more into the room where Barbara still
lay asleep.  He paused first to throw a cloak gently over the form of
the sleeping girl, then he turned to pick up his sword and collect his
papers.

But ere he left the room he hesitated once more, and turning strode into
the far corner.  Here he knelt down and searched eagerly for a certain
knot of scarlet ribbon, which being found, he folded carefully and with
a short half-shamed laugh, placed in the pocket of his doublet.

So Captain Protheroe and his men rode from the village.  But Barbara
slept on peacefully, while the sunbeams stole into the room and played
with her dark curls.  And there an hour later Phoebe found her, when, in
answer to a message sent by the captain ere he left, she came down from
the Manor House to search for her missing lady.



                              *CHAPTER IX*


It was with many a sigh and much inward misgiving that the Reverend
Marmaduke Peters ascended his pulpit steps in the little church of
Durford and prepared to deliver his discourse to his flock on the
morning of Sunday, September 15, in the year of grace, 1685.

The Reverend Marmaduke was stout and placid in person, kind-hearted and
nervously sensitive to a degree; and having as his aim in life the
threefold longing to satisfy his superiors, to breed the best poultry in
the country-side, and to live at peace with all men, he wondered what
cruel humour of fate had placed him in such a hot-bed of rebellion as
was the little village of Durford.

A while ago, with sorrow and amazement, he beheld his flock straying
wilfully towards the abhorred wilderness of rebellion, but his doubts
then lest possibly the rebellion might prove successful, forbade the
cautious soul to use what influence he might have had in holding their
allegiance firm to the king.

Now, however, when the rebellion had failed, and the rebels had been
scattered, the same caution forbade him to display openly the deep
sympathy which his kind heart could not but feel for the sufferers, many
of whom were personally dear to him.

Truly his was a delicate position, and the ingenuity with which hitherto
he had maintained a neutral position, and in both his Sabbath discourses
and his week-day intercourse with his flock had succeeded in ignoring
the very existence of the rebellion, displayed an amount of
thoughtfulness and steady perseverance which would have done justice to
a nobler effort.

But the most far-sighted prophet may be o’erthrown by circumstances.

During the few weeks in which Captain Protheroe and his men had occupied
the village a severe and inexplicable malady had kept the worthy
minister prisoner in his house, and had prevented any untoward collision
between himself and these representatives of the Royal cause.

With the withdrawal of the soldiery on the previous Wednesday, however,
he had once again recovered full health and strength, and had resumed
his duties.

But the week was not out when, to his dismay, six troopers under the
command of Corporal Crutch returned, and he received a polite but firm
intimation from the corporal that as he himself proposed to attend the
service on the morrow, a discourse upon the sinfulness of rebellion
would be regarded by the authorities as a satisfactory proof of the
preacher’s loyalty and submission.  The intimation was accompanied by a
clear hint that the Reverend Marmaduke’s loyalty was regarded in certain
quarters as of a questionable quality.

The Reverend Marmaduke was dumbfounded.

In vain did he represent to the corporal that sermons could not be
prepared on the instant, that a discourse worthy of such a theme would
require days of careful thought and study; in vain did he endeavour by
every device in his power to escape the ordeal thus set unexpectedly
before him, but escape was impossible; for the worthy corporal, finding
himself in a position of unquestioned authority, was once more minded to
enjoy it to the full.  He could not enter the pulpit himself, but he was
resolved to cause such a discourse to be delivered as should bitterly
condemn all rebels, and surround with a halo of glory his loyal,
law-preserving self.  A few judiciously suggested threats concerning the
suspected disloyalty of the minister were sufficient; the worthy doctor
recognised his helplessness and he submitted.

Not, however, until he ascended his pulpit on the morning of the Sabbath
had he fully realised the enormity of the task he had undertaken.

Beneath him stretched row after row of benches, well filled with the
parishioners who loved and trusted him, and the majority of whom had
sent their best-beloved to aid the rebellion which he was to condemn.
To his left sat Corporal Crutch, attended by two troopers, sitting as
judges upon the loyalty and fervour of his discourse.  While immediately
below the pulpit sat "the quality," as represented by Lady Cicely and
Mistress Barbara Winslow, and when his glance fell upon the face of the
latter, he knew that the ordeal before him was desperate indeed.

He had chosen for his text the words of the psalmist, "Kings with their
armies shall flee before Him," hoping that the allegorical allusion to
Monmouth as a king might soothe the feelings of those who believed in
their hero’s title.  The delivery of these words, applicable as they
were to recent events, instantly aroused the attention of his hearers.
The worthy preacher groaned inwardly; would they but sleep or allow
their attention to wander, as was ordinarily the custom, all might yet
be well; this unwonted interest was but another cruel jest of Fate.
Barbara, after a sharp glance in the direction of the corporal, whose
presence she had noted with surprise and anxiety, settled herself to
follow the discourse with a defiant light in her dark eyes, and even
Lady Cicely looked up with unusual interest.

The Reverend Marmaduke mopped his brow, sipped his glass of water, and
sighed deeply.  Then summoning all his resolution to the task, he
plunged into his subject and wandered for some time among the
ramifications of the history of the Israelites, until an impatient
movement from Corporal Crutch warned him that it was inadvisable longer
to delay the application of his text to current topics.

Thereupon he fixed his glance resolutely upon the countenance of the
corporal and burst forth into an eloquent reference to the triumph of
the supporters of the Lord’s Anointed, as represented by the king’s
troops in the late battle, and the downfall of his enemies.

Presently he became uncomfortably aware that Lady Cicely Winslow was
weeping silently into her kerchief, while many of his parishioners at
the back of the building were giving vent more noisily to their grief.
The faces of the men were dark with anger, and below him the figure of
Mistress Barbara grew more and more erect, her head thrown back, her
lips pressed tightly together, and her eyes flashing upon him glances of
indignation and scorn.

The preacher hastily diverted the flow of his discourse into a cautious
condemnation of rebellion in general, but was again driven forward by
the threatening glances of the corporal to particularise and condemn
more thoroughly.

Now, however, he was interrupted by a sharp fit of coughing from
Barbara, loud and aggressive, which ceased when he paused, and when he
continued broke out with new vehemence.  For full three minutes the
struggle continued, till Cicely’s whispered entreaties induced Barbara
to allow the unfortunate preacher to proceed in peace.

Alas! his nerves were now unstrung, his thoughts hopelessly astray.
Desperately he grasped at a last straw and sought to compromise.

Truly, he protested, rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and rebels
are ever to be abhorred.  (This to soothe the corporal.)  But had not
many rebelled in ignorance, led astray by misrepresentations, by wolves
in sheep’s clothing, and for such there was not condemnation, but pity.

This appeared to the worthy doctor an excellent position to adopt, and
for the remainder of his discourse this position he maintained,
endeavouring by appreciative references to the noble supporters of
justice on the one hand, and by an attitude of tender consolation
towards the rebels on the other, to satisfy both sections of his
congregation.

But to Mistress Barbara Winslow such a compromise appeared nothing short
of direct insult.  Condemnation as a rebel she could endure, but pity as
an ignorant fool incapable of judging her own path, she felt was more
than any maid should be called upon to accept in silence, and but for
Cicely’s restraining hand and entreating whispers she would have left
the church.  In deference to her cousin’s feelings she remained, but her
indignation was so apparent that the unfortunate pastor could not
continue, and bringing his discourse to an abrupt and bewildered
conclusion he withdrew from the pulpit.

When Barbara rose to leave the church she was a confirmed rebel.
Hitherto she had taken but small interest in the great rising, except in
so far as it concerned her brother, and had certainly been no ardent
supporter of Monmouth, but the worthy doctor’s discourse had aroused in
her a keen feeling of anger and opposition.

Now ’tis with a woman as with a stream; endeavour to resist or to direct
her course with argument or reason, and the current of her actions will
but flow the stronger in the ever-narrowing channel.

Barbara’s first impulse was to waylay the Reverend Marmaduke in the
churchyard, and there, outside the sacred edifice, pour forth upon his
offending head the vials of her wrath.  But discretion and a lengthened
indulgence in the seclusion afforded by the vestry secured the
peace-loving occupant from an encounter not wholly unanticipated.  In
ignorance of the exact nature of the events which had passed in the
churchyard during the interval, but satisfied at last that his
congregation had dispersed, he made his way to the safe haven of the
rectory.

Disappointed of her intention, Barbara looked round in search of some
other victim, but there appeared only the corporal, and she would not
demean herself to bandy words with him.  Throwing a disdainful glance in
his direction, she swept haughtily down the grass-grown path to the
lych-gate.  Here she was perforce delayed. Her cousin had paused to
speak a few words of hope and sympathy to an old woman whose only son
lay in Taunton gaol, awaiting his fate, and as she waited Barbara
glanced carelessly around her.

On the green near the church she noted a couple of mounted dragoons in
charge of four spare troop-horses saddled and bridled, and a third in
charge of a rough-looking cart.  She noted these preparations for
departure with satisfaction, and wondered what had been the reason for
such a short and sudden visit.

As the crowd in the churchyard parted, and the corporal, followed by his
two attendant troopers, came down the path to the gate, she was soon to
be enlightened, however.

The corporal advanced and laying his hand on her shoulder, cried in a
voice wherein pompous dignity and elation strove for the mastery:

"Mistress Barbara Winslow, I attaint you as a rebel, and arrest you in
the name of his Majesty."

Too much astonished to speak, Barbara was conscious, however, of a
murmur of anger and surprise from the crowd of villagers and of Cicely’s
voice enquiring sharply:

"What is the matter?  What means this?"

"There is no call to answer questions," replied the corporal pompously.
"But an ye must know, it means that this woman is attainted as a rebel,
and I hold a warrant for her arrest, with orders to conduct her
instantly to Taunton gaol to await trial."

"But it is impossible! she is no rebel."

"She is known to have sheltered rebels, many have been hanged for less,"
answered the corporal, with a sinister glance of triumph at his
prisoner.

"Yet surely it cannot be as ye say?" cried Cicely helplessly.  "Taunton
gaol!  Why she is a woman, ye cannot.  Nay, she is but a child.  Oh!
’tis monstrous, monstrous."

"No words, no words," cried the corporal fussily. "You will learn,
madame, that in such affairs of state, least said is soonest mended.
Now, mistress," he continued roughly, turning to Barbara, "we’d best be
moving."

But a growl of anger broke from the still lingering crowd, and Peter
Drew, the blacksmith, sprang upon the low wall of the churchyard.

"Hey, lads!" he cried; "they red-cöats be vor taäkin oor young Miztrez
to Taunton gaol.  Zhall her be taäken, lads?  Zhall her go?  Hey lads,
we be vaive to one.  Zhall her go, lads?"

Peter was no orator, but eloquence was not needed. Love for Barbara,
that old feudal love for their lord; resentment for the many acts of
ill-treatment sustained at the hands of the troopers during their
occupation of the village; and lastly, the spirit of revolt against
injustice and opposition which lurks secretly in every heart, all
combined to rouse his hearers to fury, and it needed no words of the
smith to fan the flame.

They greeted Peter’s harangue with a wild shout of triumph, and closed
in round the corporal and his men with gestures which threatened every
moment to develop into a fierce attack.

Barbara’s face flushed and her eyes glittered with triumph.  Wild
projects flashed through her brain.  To overpower the half-dozen
troopers, then to fortify the Manor House, and hold it against all
comers; to rally round her the many secret supporters of the late
rebellion, to recall the exiles from Holland, and to succeed in
establishing justice and the Protestant Religion, or die fighting for
the Cause.  Had not other women done as much!  These men, she knew,
would cheerfully fight to the death for her; the country was still full
of malcontents; one failure could not be regarded as the death of the
Cause.  Hope was high, all things seemed possible.  Who shall say what
mad dreams passed through her thoughts during those few moments while
she stood there, the centre of that enthusiastic mob?

But it was not to be.  From out the crowd there pressed forward an old
woman, who flung herself trembling at Barbara’s feet.

"Eh; Miztress Barbara, dearie," she cried, seizing her hand, "don’t-ee,
don’t-ee, then.  A’ll swing for it, for zure a wull if a faight.  And
zee there," pointing with her trembling hand at a tall stalwart fellow,
prominent amongst the throng, "thiccy’s arl I’ve left now. Three others
have been taäken.  If they taäk un I maun die, for zure I maun.
Don’t-ee, now."

"Vor shaäme, mother," cried the lad referred to. "Would ee have un taäk
the young Miztress to Taunton?  Vor shaäme."

But the dreams had passed.  Barbara’s eyes were opened and she
recognised the hopelessness of any resistance. She could not, she must
not sacrifice these lives.

Gently disengaging herself from the clinging hands of the old crone, she
sprang on to the wall at Peter’s side and caught his uplifted arm.

"No, no, friends!" she urged; "it won’t do.  We could not hope for more
than a short-lived victory. She is right, there would be vengeance and
ye would all swing for it.  This fellow saith he hath the Royal Warrant
for my arrest, an that be so I must e’en go with him.  Be assured they
cannot harm me; I have done no wrong.  Besides," she added proudly, "I
would not have them think me afeared to go.  Peter, be silent. Nay, I
thank you indeed, but there must be no resistance. Go home quietly.  You
women, look to your men folk.  No harm shall come to you for my sake,
and none must think I fear to go."

Thus she stood upon the wall, a bright figure in her dainty muslin gown,
smiling down upon them, until with reluctance, and many incoherent
mutterings, the crowd, somewhat reassured by her words, slowly
dispersed.  Then turning she addressed the corporal:

"So that is ended.  Now, an you will permit me first to return to the
Manor House to collect some necessaries, I am ready to go with you to
Taunton."

"I am rejoiced, mistress," he assured her pompously, "that you have
decided to submit peaceably to my orders."

"Aye, corporal," answered Barbara, with a smile at his perturbed
countenance.  "I do not doubt but you are indeed rejoiced.  But come, I
must to the Manor House, to prepare for the journey.  I presume you will
allow me so much grace?"

"The escort will accompany you thither."

"I had thought my submission had been proof enough of my good faith, but
as you will," answered Barbara carelessly, passing through the gate.

"Barbara, I must with you to Taunton, indeed I must," pleaded Cicely, as
she hastened after her cousin. "’Tis monstrous that you should go alone
with these men."

"Thou, Cicely?  Impossible!  What could’st thou do there?  Where
could’st thou lodge?  Not i’ the gaol indeed."

"There be many kindly folk in the town who would house me, and they will
perchance advise too what ’twere best to do for thee.  There is good
Mistress Lane, the wool-merchant’s wife, I will seek her out.  But go
with you I must indeed."

"In truth, Cicely," answered Barbara with a quick sigh, "I would fain
have thee near, if ’twere only to teach myself the folly of my fears by
laughing at thine."

With a tyranny born of his newly acquired importance, Corporal Crutch
refused to allow his prisoner more than a few minutes’ preparation
before her journey to Taunton, but having resigned herself to fate
Barbara had no mind to delay, and in less than half an hour after their
return to the house the two enforced travellers were ready for
departure.

Barbara’s resolution was by no means strengthened at sight of the
ramshackle cart provided to convey her to Taunton.

"To what low estate our fortunes have fallen!" she muttered with a wry
face.

"Rebels cannot expect to be treated like honest folk," remarked the
Corporal complacently.

"Set a watch on thy tongue, Master Corporal," retorted she angrily.  "I
am no rebel till I be proved such, therefore I warn thee ’twere best be
more careful of thy words," and turning abruptly from the startled man
she took her seat in the cart.

For the first few miles of their journey each of the girls devoted all
her efforts to the difficult task of cheering the other.  Upon leaving
the village and their friends behind them, some sense of the utter
helplessness of her position filled Barbara’s mind, and she was but a
sorry comforter.

But hers was not a nature to sigh long, and soon the fresh air, the
bright sunshine, and the interest and amusement she found in watching
her escort, had their effect.  The result of this reaction from her
former depression was a mood of high spirits and brighter hopes.

"In truth, Cicely," she broke out suddenly with a laugh, "we are both
fools.  At worst ’tis but a matter of a night or two in gaol, where I
doubt not I shall meet much good company; an interview with Lord
Jeffreys (I would fain see him, they say he is a right handsome man, for
all he has such a tongue); then perchance a fine, and so home.  Why ’tis
not worth a sigh.  ’Tis but an adventure, and thou knowest I love such."

"Aye, Barbara, you speak truly," answered her companion, with a
desperate attempt at cheerfulness. "They would not dare to harm a woman.
I make no doubt these tales of my Lord Jeffreys’ punishment and—and of
Lady Alice Lisle, are gross exaggerations."  This last she added with a
tentative air—Cicely longed for corroboration of that statement.

At mention of Lady Lisle Barbara’s face fell slightly, but she
resolutely dismissed her fears.

"There is not a doubt of it, sweet.  Yet even an it were not so, they
could prove nought against me.  They have no testimony to show that we
housed or aided either Rupert or Sir Peter."

"That is so," assented Cicely joyously.  "And in justice none could
punish us for what is unproven."

"Oh!  Cicely, look at yon red-headed trooper, didst ever behold so
scarlet a poll?"

"Aye.  And mark how he sits his horse.  I wager he will be over its head
ere he sees Taunton.  Note his face when the creature pricks his ears;
’tis a very picture of terror."

"Didst note the corporal as we passed trough the village?" laughed
Barbara.  "The poor fool feared an ambuscade at every corner, and
well-nigh fell from his horse with fright when old Mother Gilkin’s pot
fell down as we reached her cottage.  I hate the fellow, yet I cannot
but laugh at his antics."

Thus for a while the two chattered bravely as they clattered and bumped
along the rough country roads to Taunton.  But as night drew on the sky
became overcast with clouds, and a cold wind and drizzling rain added to
the discomfort of the journey.  Their conversation became more and more
desultory, and finally ceased altogether.

Only once again did Barbara break the silence.

"Cis," she asked with some slight hesitation, "thinkest thou that
Captain Protheroe knows aught of my arrest?"

"Knows aught!" cried Cicely in astonishment. "Why, Barbara, child, who
else hath accused thee?"

"Nay, nay; I will not believe that of him," answered Barbara stoutly.

"Believe what thou wilt, I tell thee it is the truth. Thinkest thou he
would tamely endure to be duped as thou hast duped him, without some
revenge?  Oh!  I tell thee as I have ever done, the fellow is to be
mistrusted, and to take such revenge on thee were but his nature."

"In truth, Cicely, you do not know him," pleaded Barbara.  "He is not—I
would trust him."

"Why, Barbara!  Hath the man bewitched thee that thou art so ready in
his defence?" cried Cicely, looking at her curiously.  "What hath he
done to win such trust?  Or dost thou deem, perchance, that thou hast
bewitched him, and so bound him to thy cause?  I’ faith, coz, I warn
thee, trust not too much to the power of thine eyes; all men be not so
easily ensnared."

But Barbara answered not, only sighed lightly and stared thoughtfully
into the gathering darkness, her eyes wide with wonder and with doubt.

The distance from Durford to Taunton is scarce twelve miles, and ’twas
little past noon when they set out on their journey, but the progress of
the cart was slow, owing to the bad roads.

A horse, too, cast a shoe, and they must needs stop at the next village
to seek a smith.  The escort halted more than once for refreshment, and
in fine it was night before they reached their destination.

Perhaps the darkness was not without its compensation. At the cross
roads were scenes ill-suited to a woman’s eyes, traces of that wholesale
butchery which for many weeks had devastated the fairest county of the
West.  Gaunt figures swinging in their chains from the sign-posts,
tokens of the merciless punishment meted out to those even suspected of
rebellion, had been no cheering welcome to such travellers as they.

When they entered Taunton the streets were almost deserted, and the
dwelling houses closed and in darkness, but the windows of the White
Hart Inn, the headquarters of the royal troops, blazed with light, and
the shouts of laughter and snatches of song from within indicated that
the soldiery were holding revelry, heedless alike of the hallowedness of
the Sabbath, of the misery of the townsfolk, and of the despair of
hundreds of prisoners who lay awaiting their doom in the crowded gaols
of the town.

As the cavalcade passed before the Inn an officer lounged into the light
of the doorway, and stared carelessly at the passing company.  Barbara
with a gasp of astonishment half rose to her feet, but Cicely’s hand
restrained her, and reluctantly she sank down beside her cousin.

The cart passed, leaving Captain Protheroe to continue his inspection of
the night all unconscious of whom the vehicle conveyed.



                              *CHAPTER X*


"So!  Now am I in prison.  Well, I had as lief be elsewhere," muttered
Barbara when she awoke after her first night in gaol, and proceeded
philosophically to take stock of her surroundings, which she had been
too weary to notice on the previous night.

She was not confined in the regular gaol of the town; for nigh two
months past that had been filled to overflowing.  Those arrested within
the last few weeks, together with the unfortunates sent on from Exeter
in the van of the dread-inspiring Jeffreys, were lodged in convenient
sheds and storehouses, situated in various parts of the town; bare,
dreary places with little or no suitable accommodation for the wretches
herded within their walls, but affording enough shelter in the opinion
of the authorities for rebels during the short interval which must
elapse before their trial.

The building wherein Barbara awoke was a large wooden shed, originally a
storehouse for wool, some few bales of which still remained piled in the
corners.  A large door closely guarded and windows high in the roof were
the only means of egress, and no provision for the accommodation of the
inmates had been made beyond a few straw pallet-beds for the women
prisoners, roughly screened from the rest of the shed by a dilapidated
piece of sacking.  Even in the most hopeless moments since her arrest
Barbara had calculated on nothing so dismal as this.

She had slept late after the fatigues of the previous day, and when at
length she awoke, the other occupants of her corner had already risen,
and passed beyond the partition into the shed.

Barbara seated herself on the edge of her bed and stared forlornly at
the bare wall opposite.

"Well!  Many better women have been in worse plights, there is not a
doubt.  I must e’en comfort myself with that," was her verdict after
musing some minutes upon her situation.  "Now let me see.  Rupert would
say that the duty of every woman under every circumstance is to look her
fairest, but there seemeth little scope for that maxim here, and I see
not wherein lies the vantage of tending one’s looks when here is no
mirror to show the result.  However, for lack of other advice I’ll e’en
follow Rupert’s."

Having come to this laudable conclusion, Barbara opened her bundle and
proceeded to arrange her curls, and make such improvements in her toilet
as the scanty means at her disposal allowed.  This done she drew aside
the partition and stepped into the room beyond.

It was a curious sight that met her eyes.  The shed was totally
destitute of furniture, unless as such might be designated the few bales
of wool and some bundles of straw, used by the prisoners
indiscriminately as couch, chair, or table.

The place served as lodging for about fifty prisoners, many of whom had
been from two to three weeks in captivity.  The majority of them were
rough, ignorant peasants, who, having faithfully followed their leaders
into a quarrel which they themselves but half comprehended, now awaited
their doom with that same half-puzzled, stolid patience and dogged
courage which had helped them already to face death on the fatal field
of Sedgemoor.

There were some, too, of the yeoman class, some of the richer townsfolk,
and here and there a noncomformist divine, but save perhaps in a certain
intelligence and eagerness of expression, there was nothing to
distinguish the man of learning or station from the poorest peasant.
All alike were dirty, ragged, and dishevelled; unshaven, unwashed, with
ill-kempt beards and hair.  Existence in such a prison, following in
many cases upon days of homeless wanderings, had wrought this levelling
effect upon them all.  Their money, what little they once possessed, was
long ago exhausted. They could pay their gaolers for neither books,
amusements, nor drink.  They talked little; what was there to talk of?
For the most part they were plunged in the deepest apathy.  They had
fought, they had failed; now they awaited what was to come in silence.
They showed no fear, no despair, no hope, only a great patience.

Barbara gazed on the scene with the utmost astonishment and indignation.
Were these men, indeed, the same wild enthusiasts who a while ago had so
eagerly cheered Monmouth through the streets of Taunton? Aye, and not
only cheered him, but aided him loyally, leaving work, home, wife,
children, and all, that they might follow him and strike a blow for the
Cause. Were these indeed those who, armed but with stake or scythe, had
made such a gallant stand against the best disciplined troops of the
country; those who (men were forced to confess) would but for an
accident, undoubtedly have won an unprecedented victory?  Could these
indeed be the same?  She stared with anger and scorn at their silence,
their apathy, their unkempt looks.  Her ardent young nature had no
understanding of this submission to the Inevitable; she had not yet
learned that an Inevitable might exist.

Her birth and breeding afforded her no comprehension of the stolid
bravery of the peasantry.  The farther man is removed from the natural
state, the greater the advance he has made in civilisation, so much the
more does he deem it necessary to hide his emotions beneath an
artificial mask, to seem to be that which he is not. A century later in
the massacres in Paris the victims were for the most part nobles and
gentlemen; they went to their doom bravely, with a smile in their eyes,
a jest upon their lips.  In this great Rebellion of the West the victims
were the poorest of the peasantry; they faced their doom no less
bravely, but they faced it gravely, in silence.

Barbara’s family traditions had taught her nothing of this.  She had
expected her fellow prisoners to be a company of merry dare-devils such
as her brother Rupert, or Sir Peter Dare, men who laughed at danger,
mocked their gaolers, and turned misfortune, nay, death itself, into a
subject for jest.  Men, too, who could fight fiercely and endure bravely
on occasion, yet would scorn to appear serious in any circumstances
(save perchance when discussing the set of a doublet or the colour of a
bow), and who looked upon gravity as a sign of cowardice.  Such were the
rebels she knew, the rebels she had dreamed of, gay, careless, defiant
to the end; not such as these, silent, sunk in a helpless submission to
their fate.  She could not understand.  She looked round upon them in
indignation, her lips curled in scorn.

But while she stood there surveying the scene she had herself been the
subject of observation; presently one of the prisoners approached her
and interrupted her meditations.

"What are you doing in this place, my child?" he asked gently.

The speaker was a small, spare man, with bushy white hair and beard, a
face seamed and lined with age, yet full of kindliness and humour, with
a pair of bright, piercing eyes; a face calculated to win friends or to
daunt foes.

Barbara turned to him at once as to an old friend; his voice invited
confidence.

"I was arrested but yesterday, sir, on a charge of sheltering rebels,
and I am here, as the rest of the company, to await my trial."

"You are very young, but you have a stout heart," he said, smiling
kindly.

"Why, sir, I hope so," answered Barbara cheerfully. "I am Barbara
Winslow of Durford Manor, and no Winslow yet was ever written coward,"
she added proudly, with a scornful glance round the shed.

"Noblesse oblige," he quoted, smiling at her sadly. "Ah, child, your
strength may seem great, but trust not in it too wholly, lest in the
hour of darkness it prove but a broken reed."

Barbara was puzzled.  "What mean you, sir?  Sure, ’tis not sinful to be
brave for a name’s sake."

"Nay, I say not that," he answered gently.  "There be three qualities
that have power to beget a courage unto death—Faith, Love, and Pride.
But of these three only the courage born of Faith has never been known
to fail.  Yet whencesoever it springs, courage is the gift of God and a
blessing to man, and as such must be honoured."

Barbara looked at him curiously.

"You are a divine, sir, are you not?"

"Yes, I am indeed a servant of the Lord, though for many years I have
been withheld from openly preaching His word.  For fifty years I have
lived and worked secretly among the miners of the Mendip Hills, and when
they marched to support the defender of our religion, I followed to give
them the comfort of my words.  I thank God that I shall follow them to
the end.  Ah, child," he continued earnestly, "you cannot understand
what it is to be silenced, to be dumb, as ’twere, for twenty-three
years; to be torn to pieces ’twixt the burning in my heart to speak the
Word, the fear in my breast of meeting the punishment.  It is worth a
thousand deaths to have had at last this chance of testifying once again
to the truth."

Barbara looked at him gravely.

"No," she said, "I do not understand."

His earnestness vanished.  He gave a soft resigned sigh and smiled at
her, as at a child.

"No, you do not understand; you are young and fearless."

"It should be easy to me to be courageous," she answered lightly.  "I
have nought to fear.  ’Tis for me but some few days in prison, and then
perchance a fine.  In justice they can do no more."

He smiled at her a trifle sadly.

"Aye, child, as you say, _in justice_ they could do no more."

She looked up at him doubtfully, but forbore to question further the
meaning of his words.

"But these folk," she continued, looking round, "have doubtless more to
fear."

"There is indeed little hope for them this side the grave," he answered
calmly, "save for a speedy and merciful death."

Barbara was startled.

"Surely not so—and yet—I had not thought on’t," she muttered.  "Verily,
sir, if this be true, my scorn was ill-timed, they have courage.  They
are but rude peasants, with neither pride of birth nor name to
strengthen their hearts, yet they await death as calmly as any noble.
How comes this?"

"So thou deemest courage a monopoly of gentle folk, eh?" he asked,
laughing softly.  "Ah, child, thou art young.  But indeed," he continued
more seriously, "these men have fought in the Lord’s cause, there is no
fear but He will send them strength to fight their battle bravely to the
end."

"How can it be God’s cause when it hath failed?" asked Barbara bluntly.

"Failed, child?  What mean you?"

"Why, call you not this failure?" she asked, glancing round.

"This!  In good sooth, no; this is but the beginning of success, only
the times were unripe for rebellion, the leaders were unworthy of the
cause.  Think you these men will die in vain?  In God’s name I tell you,
no. A cause strengthened by such devotion cannot but succeed; for every
drop of blood shed to-day there will spring up seeds of justice and
resolution in the hearts of the survivors which shall blossom forth into
a mighty power.  I shall not see it, but thou mayest, for the day is not
far off when justice, toleration and true religion shall once more
flourish in this kingdom.  Failure! Never!  We are but the necessary
martyrs, the runners of success.  The cause of justice was never yet won
save by a path of blood and tears."

His enthusiasm communicated itself to Barbara.  Her face glowed with
eagerness; at that moment she had resolution to face block or scaffold
that she also might die for the Cause.

"Ah!" she cried, "this is the courage of which you spoke, the courage
born of Faith."

He bowed his head in assent, and there was silence between them while
Barbara pondered on his words. Presently she continued:

"And the third, the courage of Love?  What mean you by that?" she asked.

Instantly his face was transfigured by a smile of great tenderness.

"I will show you," he answered gently.  "Look."

Barbara followed the direction of his eyes.  In a far corner of the
shed, apart from the rest of the prisoners, sat a man and a woman.  She
lay in the circle of his arm, her head dropped back upon his shoulder,
and oblivious to all around them they sat gazing in one another’s eyes.
Pale, ragged and unkempt, as were all the prisoners, yet beautiful in
each other’s eyes, and transfigured by the light of perfect happiness,
by the glory of their love.

"It is their wedding-day," he continued softly.  "I married them at
seven o’clock this morning."

"But who are they?" asked Barbara in bewilderment.

"He is the son of the squire of Hardon, and an officer in Monmouth’s
army; she, the daughter of a rich cloth-maker of Taunton, who joined the
army and met his death at Sedgemoor.  He lodged in her father’s house
when the army was first quartered here.  Later, she was attainted a
rebel, and they met again, in prison. See now how mighty is love, that
it will even force its way into such a desert as this.  They have lived
here together for three weeks as in a Paradise, and yesterday, feeling
the time of separation draw near, they besought me to join them forever
in God’s sight, as man and wife.  I know not whether I rightly
consented, yet who could refuse?"

"And the future?" whispered Barbara eagerly.

He shook his head.

"She has money, the charge against her is but slight, her friends will
buy her freedom.  But for him, an officer in the rebel army, there can
be little doubt——  Is it not wonderful?" he continued softly, as though
to himself.  "Thus they sit hour by hour.  Hopes and fears alike have
faded in the great light of their love, and for to-day at least they
live as in the Garden of Eden, where there is neither past nor future;
nought but the present and themselves."

Barbara gazed silently at the couple, until suddenly a great sense of
loneliness overcame her, and her eyes darkened with a mist of tears.
She turned to her companion with a pathetic gesture of helplessness.

"Alas! ere I came here I had believed myself so strong, so fearless.
And here I find all others are brave, and I but a helpless fool."

There was something bewitching in this sudden confession of weakness,
and her companion’s face softened for an instant as he looked at her.
Then he laughed, and his laughter was wise, for it stung her pride, and
recalled her former resolution.

"In truth, this discovery is to be deeply regretted, Mistress Winslow,"
he answered lightly, "seeing I had hoped to enlist the services of one
so stout-hearted in the work of cheering the weary hours of some of our
unfortunate comrades."

"My services!  Why, what think you I can do?" asked Barbara eagerly.
"Wouldest have me clamber on a bale of wool and harangue these men upon
the duty and virtue of courage?" she added merrily.

"Nay, that were hardly woman’s work.  And ’tis not for men your help is
needed."

"For whom, then?"

"There is a poor girl, she is scarce more than a child, who was brought
hither yesterday with her younger sister.  They were among those maids
of Taunton who presented to the Duke his banners, and for this innocent
action they have been arrested.  I think, indeed, there is little fear
for them; they have rich friends, people of influence, who can save them
at a price.  But the poor child is fragile.  Terror hath gripped her by
the heart, and if she be not roused and cheered ’tis to be feared her
brain may give way."

"Take me to her, I will try."

"Come, then.  Her sister is beside her, but the poor child is very young
and can do but little.  It may be that you will be able to cheer her."

Barbara gathered up her dainty skirts and followed her companion.  As
she passed along she was greeted by many a look of surprise and
admiration, but so intent was she upon her errand she scarce noted the
interest she aroused.

They found the two ill-fated children—they were both little
more—crouched against the wall in the darkest corner of the shed.  Near
them sat a poor peasant woman weeping bitterly, while a second woman
offered rough attempts at comfort.  Close beside the latter was a thin,
elderly woman, with the severe mouth and narrow forehead of a fanatic,
who stared straight before her, muttering rapidly to herself, oblivious
to her surroundings.  These few, with Barbara and the young bride, were
the only female prisoners in the shed.

Barbara paused a moment, surveying the group curiously, then she
advanced slowly towards the two sisters. The elder of the two was scarce
sixteen, fragile and pale. She crouched beside the wall, her chin sunk
on her breast, silent, immovable, but when Barbara, touched her on the
shoulder she raised her head suddenly, and displayed a face so frozen
with despair and eyes so wild with terror that the girl was horrified.
In an instant all other considerations vanished before the great pity
and tenderness that filled her heart.

"My poor, poor child," she exclaimed gently, "what have they done to
thee?  Nay, look not thus, none shall hurt thee, I promise it.  See, I
will sit thus beside thee. Come, now thou art safe and hast nought to
fear."

She sank down beside her, drew the child close and encircled her
tenderly with her strong young arms.

The bright face, cheery smile, and gentle voice, all tended to excite
confidence, as did also the firm pressure of human touch.  The child
gazed at her for a few moments in doubt and bewilderment, then suddenly
clung to her fiercely and burst into wild tears.

"Oh! they will kill me," she sobbed.  "Do not let them.  Do not let them
take me away."

"No, no, they shall not, I swear they shall not harm thee," answered
Barbara soothingly, though with more rashness than conviction.  "Only
look cheerily, sweetheart, and be brave and all will be well."

"Will you take me home?  Prithee, take me home," she begged, sobbing.

"Nay, we must bide here for a day or two, but what of that?  It will not
harm you, and ’tis for a great cause.  Bethink you of the saints, of the
martyrs; they suffered even death without fear.  Bethink you, childie,
how many women have striven and suffered manfully for their cause, and
be you courageous and proud to suffer thus little for yours."

"Tell me of those women," whispered the younger child, creeping near to
their new-found protector.  She was stronger; she did not suffer as did
her sister, but her poor puzzled brain could not understand why this
imprisonment had befallen them; she grasped eagerly at the reference to
martyrs.  ’Tis easier to be brave in paths which others have trod before
us.

So Barbara settled herself between the two children and bent all her
efforts to recollecting and relating to the best effect every tale of
heroism she had ever read, heard, or imagined, incidents culled from the
histories of many nations, from romances, ballads, and legends. From her
earliest childhood she had loved to listen to all such tales of prowess
and brave endurance; her store seemed unlimited, she had a clear memory,
and above all, she possessed that rarest of all gifts, the art of
story-telling.

The two children were soon listening with deep interest. She raised her
voice, that beautiful voice, not the least of her many charms, and
presently the woman sitting near them ceased her sobbing to listen; some
of the men even raised themselves from their lethargic musings and drew
near, so that she became in time the centre of a large group of
prisoners.  Cheered with this success, Barbara braced herself to an
increased effort.  She related story after story of the heroes of many
countries and times, stories of love and tenderness, of fierce passions,
of high devotion to a worthy cause, till her audience were infected with
the enthusiasm and followed her words with startling eagerness.  For a
time prison walls faded away, trial, punishment, death were forgotten,
they lived again in the past.

It is a wonderful power, the art of story-telling, and is given to few,
especially among Western peoples, but it is a power which, when combined
with the magnetism of a beautiful presence, is irresistible.

Thus intermittently for several hours Barbara continued, and to her
hearers the long day passed quickly, until late in the afternoon the
pealing of bells and a roll of drums were heard from without.  These
sounds betokened, as some guessed, the expected arrival of the king’s
judges.  On the morrow, therefore, would commence the Assize trial,
which was to decide for each whether he, too, was destined to follow in
the footsteps of the long line of martyrs and heroes who had suffered
and died in the cause of freedom.

The charm cast around them by Barbara was broken, and she finished her
narrative lamely, as her audience grew inattentive and relapsed into
moody restlessness. As the darkening shadows gathered in the wool-shed a
silence fell, the silence of an overhanging doom.

Suddenly and with startling effect the silence was broken by a clear
voice which rang through the room. "Be strong and He shall ’stablish
your hearts, all ye that put your trust in the Lord."

The words seemed to echo like a battle-clarion, an incentive to lead all
men to victory.

It was Barbara’s friend of the morning, Mr. Hardcastle, the
noncomformist divine.

When other comfort had failed he was at hand to show these untutored
peasants the true source of strength in danger, of consolation in
affliction, the promise of their God.  Few and simple were his words,
yet charged with the fervour of belief, they served their purpose well.
Again the courage of Faith strengthened them, the peace of God filled
their hearts, and when at the close of his address he besought all to
sing with him the eighty-sixth psalm, they joined him with a cheerful
heartiness which made the rafters of the barn ring again.

So night drew down upon them, but there was light in their hearts, and
they settled to rest in peace.

Barbara carried off her children to their pallet bed in the corner.
With the darkness the poor child Katherine’s terror had revived
somewhat, and for a time she could not be induced to lie down.  But
gradually Barbara soothed her, talking hopefully of her probable return
home on the morrow, and crooning tender child ballads such as her mother
sang.  Nature was merciful; clinging to the hand of her protectress she
sank at last to sleep.

Barbara herself lay long awake listening to the heavy breathing of the
sleepers around her and to the dull tramp of the sentries in the street
without.

Sleep! the very thought of it seemed ill-timed with the lives of all
these men at stake, and some way, surely some way was to be found, could
she but think of it, to save them.  To her active spirit it seemed past
belief that escape should be impossible; intolerable to think that these
forty or more around her, strong and healthy men, should go quietly to
their deaths without one bid for freedom.

She tossed from side to side upon her mattress, racking her brains to
devise a plan.  Had she not wit and cleverness more than common?  Sure
she could find some way!  But in vain; her thoughts wandered round and
round in a circle, a circle she could not break.  At length she sprang
to her feet in desperation.

"’Tis no use," she exclaimed, "I can think of nothing. But he hath
brains and he cares for their safety, I will go to him.  Together surely
we may devise some means of escape."

Softly she stepped out into the shed, and picked her way carefully among
the sleepers, looking right and left for the face she sought.  The
moonlight poured in through the windows high in the room so that her
passage was not difficult.  She came at length upon the man she sought,
the Reverend Mr. Hardcastle.  Half the night he had spent at the side of
one or another of his weaker comrades, cheering and strengthening each
by his sympathy.  Now at last he had found time for repose, and lay
sleeping quietly, his Bible still open at his side.  His slumbers were
light, for he awoke at her slightest touch, and raised himself to his
feet, instantly alert.

"What is the matter, child, do you need me?" he cried.

Barbara’s face was pale in the moonlight, her eyes gleamed strangely and
she clutched his arm with desperate eagerness.

"Surely something can be done to save them all," she cried confusedly.
"It cannot be impossible."

"What mean you, child?"

"Why, here are fifty brave men, at most but half a dozen guards.  Can we
not break prison, rush the door, devise some mode of escape?  ’Tis
intolerable to sit here in idleness while the lives of all these are at
stake.  ’Tis monstrous.  Sure, something can be done!"

"Peace, child," he answered sternly; "you know nought of the matter.  We
be fifty to six, ’tis true, but those six are armed and behind them are
many more.  If the door were passed we could not escape the town, or if
perchance we won from the town where could we hide? The royal troops are
everywhere.  ’Twere but a hopeless venture which must cost the lives of
all."

"Yet, sure, ’twere better to venture some effort than to sit thus
helplessly awaiting their fate," she pleaded impatiently.

"Ah!  Mistress Barbara, you have yet to learn that the highest courage
may lie in such waiting.  And I charge you, child, say nought of this to
the men.  They are nerved now to meet their fate, I will not have them
distressed by false hopes.  You have played your part well to-day, your
place is with yon poor children.  Go to them now, and leave these men to
me."

Unaccustomed though she was to contradiction, Barbara was yet too
strongly awed by his air of command to disobey.  Reluctantly she turned
away and with a glance of hopeless pity at the sleepers around her,
passed beyond the partition and again took her place beside the weary
children.

So the long night hours passed slowly away and the first morning of the
Bloody Assize of Taunton grew rosy in the east.



                              *CHAPTER XI*


When Cicely Winslow was parted from her cousin she went at once to seek
a lodging in the house of Master Thomas Lane, one of the most
flourishing wool-merchants of Taunton.  For many years the Winslows had
purchased their stuffs from the house of Lane, in fact ever since the
time when the founder after a long and devoted service at the Manor
House had established himself in business at Taunton.  Therefore, when
Cicely presented herself at the house of the worthy merchant she met
with a hearty though respectful welcome, and felt confident of all
possible assistance.

But though comforted by the warmth of her welcome, Cicely was not slow
to perceive that while the long business connection betwixt the two
families assured to her every consideration and respect, yet the
political opinions of her family met with anything but approval from her
host.

For, indeed, the Lanes, unlike the majority of the townsfolk of Taunton,
were the staunchest of Tories. They had ever stood firm for the King,
and having suffered considerably for their opinions during Monmouth’s
brief reign of power in the West, it was perhaps but natural that now
they should feel harshly disposed towards those who had favoured the
Duke in his rebellion against their lawful sovereign.

The household was about to sit down to supper when Cicely arrived, but
they waited respectfully until she was ready to join them in the large
lofty room, where, according to the fashion of the day, it was the
custom for master and family to sup in company with the apprentices and
others forming the household.

Knowing well the differences of opinion which existed between themselves
and their guest, Master Lane and his good wife endeavoured to avoid all
reference to current events, but the all-pervading topic would not be
stayed from creeping into the conversation, and so at length Master Lane
deemed it best boldly to set their relations on a more definite and
clear footing.

"You are heartily welcome, Lady Cicely," he began gravely, "and I will
gladly render you what help I can; at the same time I cannot disguise
from you, indeed it were not right to do so, how heartily I disapprove
of the step young Sir Rupert has taken.  So much opposed to what I am
sure his father would have wished.  Sir Rupert in thus wilfully aiding
rebellion against his lawful sovereign has proved himself unworthy of
his noble name, and of the high and honourable position he should hold
in the country."

Cicely’s eyes filled with tears at this unexpected attack. She had not
Barbara’s spirit, and could not enter into eager discussion with her
sedate and solemn host, as her cousin would doubtless have done under
similar circumstances.  She had no full knowledge of the questions which
stirred men’s hearts at the time, only to her, what Rupert did was
right, and now in her loneliness it tried her sadly to hear his actions
thus ruthlessly condemned, and that, moreover, by one whose opinions she
could not but respect.

But the good merchant was quite oblivious to her distress.  He knew
nothing of the close relations between her and Sir Rupert, and was
intent only upon removing any misapprehension on her part as to what
were his real feelings, while at the same time he deeply pitied the
misfortunes which had overtaken the family with which he had been long
honourably associated.

"The late Duke of Monmouth," he continued solemnly, "set foot in this
realm in open rebellion; not only so, but he and those under him
deliberately invented and spread abroad scandal concerning the religion,
the honourable intentions, and the virtue of our noble sovereign.
Moreover, he had the effrontery actually to declare himself, here at
Taunton, lawful King of Britain, thereby seeking to depose his own
uncle. Furthermore, he hath since proved himself coward, not alone by
his conduct upon the field of Sedgemoor, but also by the manner of his
meeting death.  That men should be so ready to turn from allegiance to
their king, to support the claims of such an one, so worthless and so
base, betrays a condition of mind unstable and untrustworthy.  For
howsoever they may choose to prate of religion and justice, they show
but shallow reasoning.  For religion and justice are protected by our
lord, the King, and need no other defender, and the alleged dangers
threatening the Protestant Church are but the inventions of fools.  ’Tis
no regard for religion and justice which directs such men, but a love of
excitement or a hope to escape from patient, honest toil by a chance
turn of events in the fortune of war."  Here he cast a severe glance
down the table in the direction of his apprentices.  "For Mistress
Barbara," he continued, "I will, if only for her honoured father’s sake,
do what I can, and I have small fear but that all severe punishment may
be averted.  But a woman hath no reason to interfere in such affairs,
and she must not be surprised if she meet her reward.  I rejoice, for
his sake, that Sir Rupert hath escaped, and pray that his misfortunes
and hardships may tame his hot blood. ’Tis indeed a sad business."

So the old man droned on solemnly, his wife from time to time nodding
approval, till Cicely choked over her meat, and felt she could endure no
more, but must scream aloud to stop this dreary tirade, every word of
which was a sword-thrust in her over-wrought heart.

But diversion came from an unexpected quarter.

Among the apprentices at the lower end of the table sat a
broad-shouldered, long-legged youth, whose sharp, eager face was
surmounted by a shock of fiery red hair. Throughout this discourse he
had evinced the utmost restlessness, shaking his head, clenching his
fists, half-rising from his seat, and showing all the signs of entire
dissension from the speaker.  At length he could restrain himself no
longer, but bidding defiance to all custom and etiquette at his master’s
table, he leaned forward eagerly and broke into the conversation.

"An it please you, sir, ’tis not so, and I must speak," he exclaimed
desperately.  "’Tis unjust to talk thus of those who fought for
Monmouth, unjust and untrue. We—they—’twas not a search merely for
excitement; ’twas not for evasion of lawful duties, but was to uphold
the sacred cause of justice; ’tis—’tis a slander to say else.  Indeed,
sir, would men risk their lives, their homes, for a jest?  Would they
fight, as the Duke’s men fought, for a mere whimsey?  ’Tis false to say
they had no reason, nor grievance.  When religion is endangered and when
justice is o’erthrown men have grievance enow!  You urge the King’s
justice," he continued with scorn.  "We hear enow of the King’s justice
in these times from Exeter or from Dorchester.  We shall watch it this
week in Taunton an I mistake not.  But for the Duke’s men, ’tis unfair
to speak of them as though they had been a band of rowdies.  They were
true men, gallant men, and I would I had been among them."

He stopped as suddenly as he had begun, crimsoned to the roots of his
flaming hair, and glanced around him with a look of dogged recklessness,
as of one who had said his say and cared nothing for what should befall
him.

There had been a sudden astonished silence, all eyes fixed upon the lad
who had dared thus to beard Master Lane at his own table.

The elders regarded him with horror, the younger apprentices with awe
not untouched with a certain admiration.  For Master Robert Wilcox’s
opinions were well known.  It was also well known that he had intended
to join the rebel army had he not been forcibly detained by his
godfather, Master Lane, who at the first sign of rebellion had packed
the fiery lad off to Portsmouth, where he had remained safe under the
sharp eye of his uncle, a retired shipmaster, till the danger had
passed. But despite the fact that Master Robert was a somewhat
privileged person and, notwithstanding his turbulent spirit, a favourite
with his godfather, that he should have dared to enter into public
discussion with his master, and upon such a subject, passed the bounds
of previous belief.  All held their breath in expectation of the sharp
reprimand which they knew must follow, and which was, indeed, hovering
on Master Lane’s lips, when he was once again interrupted, this time by
a member of his own family, a traitor, so it seemed to him, on his very
hearth.

The Lanes had two daughters.  The elder, Deborah, was the image of her
mother, a solemn, staid, and eminently practical maiden, not, indeed,
without a certain love of excitement, but yet in most points a typical
burgher maid.  Of the younger girl, Prudence, ’twas a matter of constant
wonder how such a madcap could spring from a family so grave, so
unemotional, as were the Lanes.  Pretty, spoiled, saucy, mischievous,
she was the delight of her father; adventurous and romantic to a degree,
she was the plague of her mother; and in every respect she was a
constant alarm and puzzle to her duller-witted sister Deborah.

Now she chose to electrify her family by taking up the theme where
Master Wilcox had left it.  First casting a bright, approving glance in
his direction, which caused that ardent youth to blush more crimson than
before, she proceeded to expound her views upon the subject with a
directness that amused the apprentices mightily and horrified her mother
and sister.

"Rob is right, dad.  ’Tis mighty unfair to speak thus of the Duke’s men
because they fell into the Bussex Rhine instead of winning the victory.
For all the world knows they had won if—if they had not been defeated.
For my part, I am for the Duke and for all who rode with him.  And I
think ’twas splendid of Sir Rupert," she added, with a bright glance at
Lady Cicely, who could not resist a grateful smile in return, at her
saucy defender.

Mistress Lane frowned sharply, but the merchant only shook his head
indulgently at his spoiled daughter.

"What! here is a traitor indeed.  Has my little Prue turned political?"

"Nay, dad, I care naught for politics, I only say ’tis finer to risk
life and fortune and all for—for principles, whatever they be, than to
sit year in and year out among ledgers and wool bales and to care
nothing for country and church, but think only how to keep a whole skin
and get money enow to live at ease and grow fat.  ’Tis contemptible.
Nay, daddie, I meant not you," she added penitently.  "You have fought,
I know well.  I spake but of younger men who had as lief see their
country go to rack and ruin as risk a crown of their wealth or a scratch
to their finger to set it to rights."

She paused out of breath with her torrent of indignation. Her father
laid his hand on hers tenderly and shook his head gravely at her words.

"Nay, Prudence, Robert, children both, you know nought of the matter.
Perchance I spake unkindly of the rebels.  I would not be unjust.  But I
am growing an old man, I have passed through one civil war, and I pray
Heaven night and day that England may never see another.  Had you been
living as was I through those terrible years, had you seen the country
devastated, families divided, brother against brother, aye, father even
drawing sword upon his own son; homes ruined, wives widowed, children
left fatherless through the whole length and breadth of the land—had you
seen these things, my children, you would understand better why I speak
thus harshly of those who raise the standard of rebellion within our
fair realm.  Men may use all just, all peaceful means of redressing
their grievances, but should they fail, then, I say, ’twere better to
endure those grievances, aye, even injustice, in silence, than bring the
curse of civil war upon their country."

There was silence for a space.  Then Prudence, whom no solemnity could
long depress, again broke out merrily:

"For all that, daddie, the Duke’s a main handsome man, and one worthy to
be followed."

"Why, Prue?" exclaimed her sister teasingly, "methought you cared for
none save brave men.  How canst speak thus of such a proved coward?"

"The Duke is no coward," exclaimed Prue hotly. "They be but lying knaves
who say otherwise.  He is worthy to be followed and," with a saucy
glance at her father, "when he comes again I’ll follow him myself."

"When he comes again!" cried Deborah in blank astonishment.  "La! child,
where be thy wits?  Dost not know he was beheaded on Tower Hill, two
months since?"

"Aye, so they say in London," answered the little rebel scornfully.
"But what should they know on’t there?  Here in the West ’tis known that
the Duke escaped, and that ’twas his servant, dressed in his coat, and
as like him as pea to pea, whom the soldiers took. He died in his
master’s place as would many another, and the Duke will return again to
venge himself upon this bloody King."

Deborah stared in blank astonishment at the exposition of this
astounding theory which, notwithstanding its extravagance, did not lack
many believers other than the pretty Prudence.  But Mistress Lane would
endure no more, and interrupted her daughter sharply.

"Prudence, you give your tongue too much license, as I have told you
oft.  Go to your room and rest there till you be of a better mind.  Nay,
Thomas, ’tis for the child’s own good; who can say what trouble may
befall her if she will not curb that saucy spirit?  To your room
instantly, Prudence; three days with bread and water will tame you, let
us hope, and let us hear no more of this nonsense."

Prudence rose slowly with pouting lips, and cast glances of entreaty in
the direction of her father, who resolutely refused, however, to meet
the eyes of the daughter whom as he knew too well he spoiled.

Robert Wilcox’s countenance assumed terrible contortions in its
endeavour to express at the same time admiration of Prue’s bravery and
indignation at Mistress Lane’s severity, but he dared make no more
outspoken remonstrance.

Prue saw no escape and was leaving the room to go to her imprisonment
when Cicely intervened.

"Prithee, Mistress Lane," she pleaded gently, "forgive her.  I make no
doubt ’twas but consideration for me made her speak so rashly, she will
be more careful hereafter.  Nay, an you will forgive her, I will be her
surety for the next three days that no word of folly pass her lips.  You
will grant me this, else shall I feel that I have brought dissension
into your household, and that would grieve me indeed."

She pleaded gently, but urgently, and Mistress Lane could not refuse so
honoured a guest.  So Prudence was forgiven, after receiving a lecture
upon the virtue of silence in the presence of her elders.

But so ardent were the looks of gratitude for her interference which
Cicely received from the red-headed apprentice, that she learned at
least one secret that evening, and intercepting a glance or two ’twixt
him and the pretty Prudence, she suspected that she had learned yet
another.

The Lanes were an early household, and when Cicely rose in the morning,
having slept late after her journey of the previous day, she found they
had long been about their duties of the day.  Nor had her affairs been
forgotten.  Master Lane had been early to the prison to ascertain of
Mistress Barbara’s comfort, but discovered, to his chagrin, that
admission was strictly forbidden.

He had next sought out the governor, hoping an exception might be made
in favour of so staunch a Tory as himself, but the governor informed
him, courteously enough, that such a favour was impossible.  Hitherto a
visit to the prisoners had been an easy matter to compass, but in
consequence of the escape of some of the prisoners who accompanied the
train of the chief justice on the road to Exeter, an order had been
issued that no access should be allowed to the prisoners on any pretext
whatever.  The governor expressed his regret at being obliged to refuse
the request, but he could make no exceptions.  He consented, however, to
convey a hamper of fruits and other dainties to Mistress Winslow, and
promised to do all in his power to promote her comfort.

So Master Lane was obliged to content himself by despatching a
consignment of delicacies to relieve the ordinary prison fare, which,
however, owing to the occupation of the governor, busy with a thousand
prisoners on his hands, and the venality of gaolers, never reached its
destination.

It had been with a twinge of remorse that he had ascertained, amongst
other details, that Barbara was confined in the very shed which he had
himself lent to the government; still he had done his utmost to prove
his interest in her cause and having brought Cicely news of his mission
with a further promise to do what he could to influence the authorities
in Barbara’s behalf, he went to his work leaving her to pass the day as
best she could.

Long and wearisome were the hours to the tender heart of Cicely as she
sat over Mistress Lane’s tambour frame, seeking by such occupation to
drive from her mind the ever rising fear of what the morrow might bring.

Mistress Lane was busy about her household duties, Deborah helping her,
but Prudence brought her work to the window-seat where Cicely had seated
herself and soon her busy tongue broke through the thin veneer of
shyness which she felt towards this lady, so beautiful, so unhappy, and
in her eyes, so eminently interesting, and she was presently chattering
busily, her work neglected on her lap.

Her eagerness and admiration banished Cicely’s reserve, poor Cicely, so
anxious for sympathy, and Prudence had soon learned the whole story of
the betrothal to Sir Rupert, of their last meeting, and of Barbara’s
daring escapade.

Prudence was charmed.  ’Twas so romantic, so venturesome, so brave.  She
listened eagerly to Cicely’s description of her lover, of his reckless
daring and his tenderness.  With all the ready passion of an emotional
nature she worshipped the heroine of so distressful a love-story and
with the eagerness of a romantic child espoused her cause.

Cicely was grateful for this ready sympathy and the mutual confidence
thus inspired induced her companion to tell her story too.

"Yes—’tis true, Robert saith he loves me, and though he be but a
’prentice, he is brave and—and splendid, and methinks I care for him
also, though ’twould not do to let him know how dearly.  He is not as
the others. You marked him, perchance, at supper yester e’en.  How he
spake his mind!  He would be a soldier, an he had his way, he but bides
here to please my father, and and——"

"Perchance to see thee at times?" questioned Cicely, smiling.

"It may be so," was the demure answer.  "But he will not be a
wool-merchant all his days, Lady Cicely. He means to be a great man,
perchance to be in the Parliament; think on’t, to rule the kingdom, and
he could do it well, though I would not tell him so.  But, indeed, I
care not what he be, so that he love me truly," she added naïvely.

"And what saith Master Lane to this?"

"Oh, dad likes him well, I doubt not.  But we have not thought fit to
trouble him with the matter yet."

Cicely shook her head, but could not find it in her heart to be severe
with such an outspoken admirer of Rupert.  She won Prue’s heart more
completely still by her kindly wishes for the future, and a few
commendatory remarks concerning Master Wilcox’s appearance, and the
younger girl’s tongue once loosened on the subject she chattered busily
until they were joined by Mistress Lane, who cast a severe glance at her
daughter’s neglected work.

The morning passed slowly away, but noon brought a visitor for Cicely in
the person of Peter Drew, the smith.  He had ridden that morning from
Durford to offer his services to his ladies, and Cicely could not but
rejoice to see his honest, friendly face, though she was conscious of
the dangers of so sturdy a supporter of her family wandering
unrestrained in the streets of Taunton, and doubtless speaking his mind
to whomsoever he met.  Indeed, a large bruise on his forehead and a
certain dishevelled appearance about his garments, betokened that he had
already met with a dissentient acquaintance.

Cicely questioned him closely on the subject and he reluctantly
confessed that such had indeed been the case.

"’Twere but a mon at Inn where I left Black Beauty," he explained
calmly.  "Muzt needs ask my biznez, which I told un, arl vair and
pleazant.  But a muzt needz zay ’twere waizer to keep fra mixing wi’
rebels and zuch laike, zo I told un my lady were no rebel.  And a zaying
it appeared her were, I gaäve un a tap on head to quiet un.  But host
and others, zo plaize your ladyship, coom at me thereupon wi’ bezoms,
whereat I knocked two flat, and others zhowing little ztomach to teäste
my cudgel, I oop on Black Beauty and rid awai. ’Twere but a
mizunderztanding, zee, and none hurt, but a zhould laive an honest mon
to do her biznez in pace."

Though fain to laugh at the smith’s bold narrative, Cicely saw clearly
that she could not keep him in Taunton without hourly risk of the
recurrence of such an episode.  She therefore gently told him that,
grateful though she was for his visit, he would yet serve her better by
remaining quietly at Durford and helping Phoebe to look after the Manor
House.  And she prayed him return thither as speedily as possible, and
remain there till she sent for his assistance.

Peter was terribly disappointed.  He shook his head, sighed, moved
restlessly in his seat.  Then he rose and made a slow tour of the room,
peering cautiously behind every curtain and under every article of
furniture, and having ascertained to his satisfaction that he and Cicely
were alone, he approached her with an air of deep mystery, and exclaimed
in a loud whisper:

"An’t plaize your ladyship, carn’t her ezcaäpe."

"What, Peter!" exclaimed Cicely, astonished.

"Beggin’ your ladyzhip’s pardon, but ’twere last naight at the Royal
Jaämes.  A were there, a-talkin’ o’ Mistress Barbara i’ gaol, and ’twere
zaid, why couldn’t her ezcaäpe?  If it be but a matter o’ boltz and
barz, I be a zmith by traäde, and they be zoon broken.  I would na
interfere wi’ king’s justice i’ the main, but vor Mistress Barbara, ’tiz
but raight her be freed at once.  And zo I be coom hither to do it."

"’Twas very kind of you, Peter," answered Cicely, repressing a smile;
"but I fear it could not be done. You see there be sentinels guarding
the prison.  We could not elude them."

Peter’s face fell; he scratched his head for some moments in dubious
silence.  Suddenly he slapped his leg in delight.

"A boggart!" he cried; "a boggart.  ’Tis the very thing.  I mind wull my
vayther tull me that when a were clapped i’ gaol over te Cannington
vor—vor zome matter of stalin’ a pig, brother skeered gaoler wi’ a
boggart and a coom awai.  Now an thee wull be a boggart and skeer
t’zentinels, I wull look to barz and boltz and Miztress Barbara will be
vree by mud-naight."

Cicely gasped.  She pictured herself dressed as a ghost, hopping about
the streets of Taunton, a terror to the soldiery, while Peter in the
meanwhile broke patiently thro’ the bars that shut in Barbara from
freedom.  She broke into hysterical laughter. Peter was crestfallen at
this reception of his plan.

"I zim to think of nought elze," he muttered disconsolately.  "There be
many weays o’ ezcaäpe, Miztress Barbara herzell a told me, could I but
bring un to maind.  There have been zome as pazzed vor prizoners to let
un ezcaäpe, but I could zcarce paz vor Mistress Barbara, and you, ’twere
zmall good to vree her if your ladyship were left behaind.  Then there
be a taäl o’ a mon let down i’ a bazket, but I zee not raightly how to
do that.  And there be birds wi’ paäpers under wings, and loaves o’
bread wi’ a rope inzaide.  My waife could baäke one, if your ladyship
thinks well on’t.  Tho’ fai," he added doubtfully, "’twould need be a
maighty big one."

But Cicely could not allow the loyal fellow further to tax his inventive
powers, she knew it was indeed kinder at once to crush his hopes.

"No, Peter, it will not do.  ’Tis true such plans have succeeded once,
but they could little avail us now.  We must wait.  Wait till to-morrow,
I doubt not she will then be freed.  If she be not," she added with a
sudden shudder, as the fear of the alternative rose in her breast, "why,
Peter, if she be not, I will send for thee, and together we will free
her somehow, tho’ it cost us our lives."

Peter begged to be allowed to stay in Taunton till the morrow, but
Cicely dared not risk it.  She was firm in her resolution that he must
return, and return at once, and at length he reluctantly departed, still
mourning over his shattered dream of rescuing his beloved lady from her
prison, and bearing her back to Durford in triumph, even as did the
heroes of old whose deeds she so admired, and with stories of whom she
had so often dazzled his bewildered brain.

The day passed, and as evening drew near, Cicely was seized with an
irresistible fit of restlessness.  This patient waiting was straining
her nerves past endurance; she longed to be doing something, anything so
it be definite action towards the release of her cousin. She could
tolerate the quiet house no longer, she must out.

Hearing that the lord chief justice and his suite were to enter the town
that evening, she expressed her intention of going into the streets to
see them pass.  She longed to see this man of whom she had heard so
much, the man upon whose lips hung the fate of her cousin, the fate of
the thousand prisoners who lay that evening in the city awaiting their
trial.

Mistress Lane opposed the wish, but Cicely was resolved; she was
obstinate, even irritable, in combating the good lady’s arguments
against such a course.  She scarce understood herself this eagerness to
see the judge’s entry, she only knew that she must go out, must be
interested, distracted, or she should go mad with the thoughts she could
not banish from her brain.

So Mistress Lane left her to go her way, and allowed Prudence to
accompany her, tho’ ’twas with many misgivings that she watched them set
out.

The two girls went their way and took up their position in the East
street.

The streets were very full, many people having come out to see the entry
of the judges.  Groups stood at the corners, gravely discussing the
impending trial, men and women wandered aimlessly up and down
waiting—waiting, they knew not for what.  Everywhere was a spirit of
restlessness, of suspense, and over all hung the great hush of
expectation.  Men spake for the most part in subdued voices, nowhere
sounded the customary cries and cheerful noises of the streets.  There
were few outward tokens of grief; sorrow and anxiety had so long
oppressed the people they had grown accustomed to their burden.

To-night, however, the thought of the dark morrow looming threateningly
before their sight had driven them out into the streets to wander
restlessly to and fro seeking to escape from that fear which would not
be shaken off, but followed ever behind them, whispering in the ear its
dread suggestions.  The spirit of that terrible tribunal moved on
before; already the shadow of its presence darkened their hearts.

As they waited in the East street, acquaintances of Prudence passed the
girls, but none stopped to speak. Despite their kindness of heart the
Lanes were not popular with their fellow-townsmen, who, perhaps
naturally, felt suspicious of this prosperous Tory merchant.

Presently Robert Wilcox approached and encouraged by a smile from Cicely
he joined them, and the three strolled up and down the street together.

A sense of loneliness oppressed Cicely as she watched the covert glances
and whispers of the lovers.  She tried to forget her own sorrows, tried
not to listen to the dismal conversations of the passers by, but in
vain. She could not escape from her thoughts, could not dismiss from her
mind that dreaded verdict, heard on the lips, written on the faces of
all around her, "There is no hope."

But at length a roll of kettle-drums announced the approach of the
judges; and as the procession turned into East street, everyone paused
instinctively to watch it pass.

Dragoons, halberdiers, and carriages all went slowly past, and last of
all came the great coach of the Chief Justice, Lord Jeffreys himself
reclining carelessly on his cushions within.

Cicely leaned forward eagerly to gaze at the man of whom she had heard
so much, and gave an exclamation of astonishment when her eyes rested on
his face. Where was the brutal, the ferocious judge of whom so many
terrible rumours had reached her ears?  Where was that monster of
cruelty at whose name even the rough soldiers trembled?  Surely not
here.  This man so wonderfully handsome, this man with the lofty brow,
the noble expression, the sad, weary eyes, this could not be the
terrible Jeffreys.  Yet if it were indeed he, if it were——  Why surely
then——  Her heart leaped high with hope.  Surely then these stories must
be false, base calumnies of the rebels even such as those which were
told of Duke Monmouth by the supporters of the King.

And then a confusion at the street corner, a trooper’s horse down upon
the cobbles, caused the procession to halt, the coach of the chief
justice was stationary but two yards from where she stood.

With a sudden wild impulse, born of new hope in her breast, Cicely
darted into the roadway, pushing to right and left the astonished men,
who would have barred her passage: darted quickly to the side of the
coach and laid her hand on the shoulder of Lord Jeffreys as he reclined
among his scarlet cushions.

"Mercy, my lord, mercy for my cousin," she cried, scarce knowing what
she did.

The occupant of the coach started from his reverie and turned to her,
bewildered for the moment at the suddenness of her address.  He had, in
truth, been almost asleep, worn out with his painful journey over the
rough country roads.

"What is it, woman?  What did you say?" he snarled sharply.

"Mercy, my lord, I entreat," she gasped nervously. "’Tis for one of the
prisoners, my cousin, Mistress Barbara Winslow.  She is indeed innocent
enough, and, oh! my lord, she is so young."

The judge gave a sudden harsh laugh, a laugh so full of needless cruelty
that Cicely shuddered.  She looked in his face and shrank back in dread,
wondering could this be indeed the same man whose noble expression had
so melted her, he was on a sudden so hideously transformed.  All the
ferocity of his violent nature, all the brutality of a pitiless heart
were stamped upon his features.  He was, indeed, at that moment,
suffering acutely from the effects of his journey, and his mind, at no
time tending greatly towards mercy and tenderness, was now warped and
disfigured by weakness and pain into a very hell of cruelty.

"Mercy!" he jeered.  "Mercy!  Nay, there shall be no mercy.  They shall
all suffer, not one shall escape, not one.  I will exterminate them all.
Verily, I will make an example of these turbulent townsfolk, I will
teach them a lesson they shall not soon forget.  Mercy, aye, they shall
have mercy, even such mercy as they have deserved.  A merciful death."

"Ah, no, my lord!  But for this girl," pleaded Cicely; desperately,
"surely for her."

"Drive on," shouted Jeffreys fiercely.  Then seeing the coachman
hesitate and glance doubtfully at Cicely, who clung to the coach door,
he rapped out a string of oaths and roared to the man to whip up his
horses and proceed.

The coach moved on.

But Cicely, desperate, still clung to the door of the coach, sobbing out
her appeal.

"Ah, no, my lord! on this one at least have pity.  No no, not death, my
lord, not death."

Then the chief justice, livid with fury, rose in his coach, and shouted
to his coachman to lash at her with his whip, and drive her away.
Terrified, the man obeyed, striking at her blindly.  The lash stung
across her hands and with a sharp cry she sank on to her knees on the
road as the coach rolled onwards, Jeffreys lying back shuddering on his
pillows, his face livid with agony, but the bitter smile still upon his
lips.



                             *CHAPTER XII*


The morning of the 16th broke bright and fresh from the thin September
mists.  The sunbeams shot across the rosy sky, and sparkled in the clear
dewdrops, the late roses raised their glowing heads to meet the light,
and the birds in the woods chorused joyously their Autumn serenade.  But
in the City of Taunton the morning light revealed the grey and careworn
faces of many who, hoping little from the morrow, had watched throughout
the night in an anguish of doubt and suspense, and a passion of hopeless
prayer.  Be the morning sunbeams never so bright, they could not dispel
the darkness of that day for Taunton.

The sun climbed over the roofs, and peered into the high windows of the
prisons, where the captives roused themselves and prepared to stand
their trial.

The newly wedded bride lay sleeping in the arms of her husband, who for
many hours had watched in silence, till the pale grey dawn had stolen
into the wool-shed, to light the face he loved.  She had fallen asleep
in the happiness of the present, but when she awoke and looked into his
face she knew that the dream had passed, and stern reality was before
them.  She sat up with a start, gazed despairingly around her, then
turned again to meet the hopeless glance of the eyes that yesterday had
looked but love.  With a deep sob of bitterness she flung her arms
around him, and buried her face on his shoulder; for now it seemed that
the angel of doom stood at the gate of their Eden to drive them forth
into the outer darkness, where each must wander alone. And he had no
comfort for her pain.

Barbara was ever strangely susceptible to the influence of sunshine.
The depression of the previous night had moderated and her spirits
danced lightly as the flickering sunbeams.  The freshness of the morning
was in her glance and she looked as much out of place in those gloomy
surroundings as a delicate wild rose dropped in the mire of a city
street.  Her cheerful spirits were infectious, the men warmed at sight
of her bright glances, and for a moment a sense of happiness gleamed
faintly in their hearts.

But not for long.  The shadow of the king of terrors lay too heavy to be
effaced.  The gleam of light grew fainter and more distant, until it
vanished in the dark mists of grim reality.

The sitting of the court was postponed till noon, owing to the
indisposition of the chief justice, but when the trial at length opened,
the work went busily forward. These first days of the Assize were
devoted to the trial of the more notable prisoners, the bulk of the
peasants taken at, or soon after Sedgemoor fight, being reserved for
trial in batches of from fifty to a hundred, later in the week.

One of the first to be called was Mistress Mary Dale, the poor young
bride.  The lovers parted in silence, all eternity in their glance.
When she was summoned from the prison he took up his station by the
door, to await her return.  He waited in vain.  In her case—the one
instance perhaps in which it was unsolicited—mercy was shown.  Her fine
was paid and she was free, free to go whither she would, save only back
to the prison where she had left her heart.  Free, when freedom was
banishment, alive when life had nothing to offer save utter loneliness.

Throughout the day the dreary exodus of the prisoners continued.  For
some there was no return, punishment following close upon conviction,
others returned calm and quiet in the certain expectation of death on
the morrow, or of that yet more terrible death in life which lay in the
sentence of banishment to the Plantations.

The pathos of the scene struck Barbara deeply, and the sense of her
helplessness in sight of injustice and wrong awoke in her a state of
subdued fury.

But she had her work to do.  The morning had brought new terror to the
heart of the delicate child, Katherine Keene, and strive as Barbara
would, by all means in her power, to soothe and cheer the terrified
girl, her panic but increased as the day drew on, and when at last she
and her sister were summoned before the court, she clung passionately to
her protectress, sobbing in a very frenzy of terror, imploring her not
to allow them to take her away.

Even Barbara’s firmness gave way under the strain, she wept out of pure
pity for a terror which as yet she could not comprehend.

"Brutes!" she muttered between her clenched teeth, when at last the
terrified children were marched away. "Brutes! devils!  Can they not see
the child is half demented.  Ah, were I but king for one day, I would
teach them a lesson they should not forget."

But later in the day, when a compassionate gaoler brought her news of
the children’s fate, her indignation rose to fury.  For Judge Jeffreys,
recognising in the panic-stricken girls a fit object for an exhibition
of his fiercest passion, had so bullied and tormented them, so raged, so
sworn, so threatened them, that the delicate Katherine could endure no
more.  Scarcely had she reached the door of the court house, after her
trial, when she fell fainting to the ground, and an hour later died from
sheer excess of terror.  Her younger sister was freed indeed, after
payment of a heavy fine, but she never recovered from the shock and fear
of that day. Thus suffered these innocents whose sole offence had been
in the embroidering of a banner for the Duke of Monmouth, under the
direction of their school-mistress.

Barbara having no longer an object on which to lavish her protecting
tenderness, there remained nothing for her to do save to sit in
idleness, watching that silent procession of prisoners passing ever
through the prison door, while the heart within her breast burned and
raged with impotent fury.

The day passed slowly on, and at length, towards six o’clock in the
evening, the summons came for Mistress Barbara Winslow to attend court.
She was the last prisoner for trial that day.

Barbara rose to her feet with alacrity on hearing her name, and throwing
on her cloak, made haste to follow her guards.  Here at length was
something to be done, some change from impotent watching and waiting.
Now, at length, she was to meet face to face with these tyrant judges,
to whom she might at least speak her thoughts.  All concern for her own
case, her own danger, had fled, prudence had no place in her thoughts,
her mind was filled with a wild hatred of the perpetrators of this
barbarous cruelty, with a mad desire to fling defiance at their threats,
and to cry aloud to their faces what she, Barbara Winslow, thought of
their sentences.

Escorted by a file of soldiers she was marched rapidly across the
market-square and into the court house. There was no great concourse of
people in the streets. The majority of the townsfolk sympathised with
the prisoners, but dared not openly show their sympathy lest they, too,
be accounted rebels; they deemed it more prudent, therefore, to remain
quietly within doors, while such as sought merely to derive sensational
amusement from the trial had found places within the crowded court.

While Barbara waited in the hall outside the chamber where the court was
sitting, a prisoner passed her, hurried along between his guards.  He
was a young man scarcely twenty years of age, slenderly built, with
delicate handsome features, but the look on his face made the girl start
back with an exclamation of horror.

"In Heaven’s name, what hath befallen him?  Who is he?" she gasped.

"’Tis young Master Tutchin," answered one of her guards carelessly.  "A
hard sentence, for sure, ’tis scarce likely he will live to see the end
o’t."

"What is it?" questioned Barbara in horror.

"To be imprisoned seven years, and once a year to be flogged through
every market town of Dorset, which by calculation should be a flogging
twice a month. Aye, aye, ’tis a hard sentence," he continued, meeting
her glance; "but what would you?  He is a proved rebel."

"Oh! that such devils of judges should go unpunished," was Barbara’s
fierce rejoinder.  It was with a heart burning with rage that she
entered the court.

And yet, so strange and uncontrollable are the feelings of women that
her first thought, when she found herself face to face with the dreaded
chief justice, was one of astonishment and pity.

She had expected, like Cicely on the previous evening, to behold a
coarse, brutal ruffian, ferocity and hatred stamped on every feature.
When, in place of such a creature, she beheld the handsome face and
noble bearing of her judge, she gave a gasp of surprise.  Pity also
filled her heart, for his eyes were half closed, and there were traces
of suffering on his face, as he lay back in his chair with an air of
extreme exhaustion. The terrible malady to which he was a victim
tortured him, and the long day in court had tried him severely; but no
amount of physical suffering could overcome the iron will, or prevent
him even for a day from pursuing that strange course of relentless
cruelty which he had elected to follow.

When Barbara took her place in the dock he roused himself with an
effort, and looked at her with a sharp piercing glance.

"What!" he exclaimed.  "Yet another of these women rebels.  Are we never
to have an end of them? Can they not find mischief enow to do in their
own homes, but they must needs interfere in affairs of state? What is
the prisoner’s name?"

"Mistress Barbara Winslow, my lord."

"Winslow!  Winslow!"

"Aye, my lord," answered one of the crown lawyers. "Her brother followed
the rebel duke, but through her connivance, so it is submitted, he hath
escaped the country."

"Ah, ha! so she comes of a fine rebel stock, eh?"

The several counts in the indictment were furnished by Barbara’s
participation in the escape of Sir Peter Dare, her interference with the
whipping of the boy at Durford, and other incidents of a trifling
character in themselves, but of which the prosecuting counsel did not
fail to take full advantage.  The first witness called Corporal Crutch,
who took no pains to conceal his malignant satisfaction in prejudicing
the chances of the prisoner by every means in his power.  Barbara’s
pride, and her contempt for the man forbade her to question the
corporal’s evidence, even though she was urged to do so by Sir William
Montague, the chief baron of the court; and after corroboration of the
corporal’s story by other troopers the case for the crown being closed,
Barbara was asked whether she had anything to say in her defence before
the jury considered their verdict and the court pronounced sentence.

"So please you, my lords," answered Barbara, ignoring Jeffreys
pointedly, and addressing herself to the three judges who sat with him,
"that I am a traitor I deny utterly.  As for the stories these men tell
of me, why, they are true enough I must admit.  But what then?  I did
but give food and assistance to those in dire distress and misery, I did
no more than we are e’en commanded in the Gospels."

"The Gospels!  The Gospels!" interrupted Jeffreys scornfully.

"Aye, my lord," answered Barbara, turning on him sharply.  "The Gospels.
In which books methinks your lordship hath made but scant study."

Judge Jeffreys started forward, and stared at her in astonishment, then
his face grew purple and distorted with fury, and his eyes gleamed
horribly as he broke into a fierce tirade.

"What!  What!  I am to be browbeaten, contradicted in my own court, am
I?  What!  You shall learn that the majesty of the law, the
representative of our gracious sovereign is not to be thus lightly
answered. Gospels, forsooth!  ’Tis ever the same excuse, the same
prating of Gospels and conscience and I know not what. Is this yet
another of these pestilent dissenters?  Do these wretched creatures deem
they may rebel with impunity against his gracious Majesty, can plot and
scheme against such a loving, such a merciful, king, and then shelter
themselves behind such a babble of Gospels and conscience.  Faugh!  ’Tis
monstrous.  ’Tis beyond endurance!  The prisoner pleads guilty to the
charges brought against her but appeals to the Gospels for evidence in
her favour, eh?  ’Tis but little evidence she will find there in
justification of rebellion."

Barbara’s anger had risen during the foregoing scene, and was now beyond
her control.  Twice she had endeavoured to interrupt the judge’s
comments, and now when at length he paused, she burst forth in almost as
great a frenzy as the judge himself.

"And I must needs say this much more—not indeed in mine own cause, for
that I care nothing, but rather in the cause of the many poor wretches
whom ye have to-day tortured and slain, of the ignorant and helpless
peasants whom ye have condemned without fair hearing, of the delicate
women whom ye have threatened, of the innocent children whom ye have
terrified even to death.  Nay, I will _not_ be silent, I _must_ speak.
Ye who are judges, what judgments are these wherein is neither truth nor
mercy?  Ye prate of the law, what law is this that knows no justice?  Ye
speak of his Majesty.  Oh! an ye be in truth the representatives of his
Majesty, the workers of his will, then do I say he is no true king, and
’twould be a good day indeed for England were such a king overthrown."

She ceased speaking.  She had said her say, she had poured forth all the
pent-up fury of her thoughts, she had defied the judge to his face, and
in the dead silence that followed her words, the first grip of terror at
what she had said clutched at her heart.

The court gasped in horrified amazement, but the face of Judge Jeffreys
was terrible to behold.  Always strangely, morbidly sensitive to
opposition, or to rebuke from whatever source, the judge lost all
control over himself.  His eyes seemed starting from his head and glared
horribly; his face grew purple and swollen, his lips were drawn back in
a fierce snarl.  He ground his teeth, and rolled from side to side in
his chair, partly in rage and partly in the agony which such rage caused
him.  His unrestrained fury was horrible to witness.  It was as though
some fit were upon him, and Barbara shrank involuntarily at the sight of
such appalling ferocity.  At length he regained some measure of his
self-control.

"What!  Heaven help us," he exclaimed.  "Why, this is the very
incarnation of rebellion, a very headspring and source of treason.  Oh!
that such a woman, so young, should be so far gone in iniquity.  Beware,
madame, beware!  I see death standing beside thee——"

"Then, my lord, I doubt not ’tis an infinitely preferable vision to that
which mine eyes behold," she answered, staring full at him, and goaded
into recklessness by an awakening sense of her own danger.

For an instant it seemed as if the judge would give way to another
paroxysm of rage, but he restrained himself with a supreme effort, and
with a calmness that boded even worse for the prisoner than his former
fury he turned to the jury and continued:

"What say you, sirs?  Methinks you can find but one answer as to the
prisoner’s guilt."

But Barbara’s youth, beauty and courage had not been without effect upon
the minds of the jury. Slavish time-servers though they were, they could
not without protest see condemnation passed upon a young girl whose only
real offence lay in a too-unrestrained tongue.  This feeling was readily
apparent to the practised eye of the judge and lest it should serve to
balk his purpose he added: "The prisoner is young it is true, but what
of that?  Rebellion must be crushed in the bud, must be slain in the
shell or ’twill grow to a most pernicious monster.  Come, what is the
verdict? Do you find the prisoner guilty or no?  Beware, gentlemen, how
ye condone guilt; lend no cloak to protect treason."

The jury, thus admonished, held out no longer.  They found the prisoner
guilty, but salved their consciences by commending her to mercy.

But ere the chief justice pronounced sentence, a protest came from an
unexpected quarter on Barbara’s behalf.  Sir William Montague, leaning
forward in his seat, addressed the judge in low earnest tones which
could not fail to arrest his attention.

"My lord, I anticipate what sentence you purpose to pronounce upon the
prisoner, even such an one as was passed upon the late Lady Lisle.  But
bethink you, my lord, the cases are very different.  For Lady Alice
Lisle was the widow of a noted rebel, she was advanced in years; both
her age and her experience should have warned her of the full
significance of the offence she committed.  Moreover, my lord, there are
those who consider that even in her case, the sentence erred in
severity.  But this is but a girl, too young indeed to realise the
criminality of her actions.  She hath pleaded guilty it is true, but
thereby has thrown herself upon the mercy of the court.  That she hath
incurred the penalty of the law by sheltering rebels, ’twere idle to
deny, but she did so from motives of humanity, and in no way from a
desire to further the cause of rebellion. For the rest, my lord, you
cannot condemn the prisoner because she hath, as indeed what woman hath
not, an over-free tongue, and hath on this occasion, it must be
confessed, used it most ill-advisedly.  Further, I would remind your
lordship," he added in a meaning tone, "that there be occasions when to
show mercy is not only a divine action, but also an expedient one."

Lord Jeffreys sat for some moments in silence, gazing sullenly at the
prisoner.  The words of the chief baron had not been without their
effect.  He knew well what universal indignation his condemnation of
Lady Lisle had aroused, and he judged that in face of the interest the
affair had excited in high quarters, to pass another such severe
sentence upon a woman were not politic. For however much the orders of
the King might demand seventy, Jeffreys knew well that his master was
not one to screen his servants from the general opprobrium attendant
upon the committal of an unpopular act, even were that act the outcome
of his express commands.

Meanwhile a deep hush of expectation had fallen upon the court while the
judges had conferred together, broken at length by the harsh tones of
the chief justice.

"Mistress Barbara Winslow, you have been found guilty of the crime of
harbouring rebels, and of interference with the lawful actions of the
agents of his Majesty, the King.  Yet as the tender heart of his
Majesty, our most gracious sovereign, doth ever incline to pity and
leniency, you shall, in consideration of your youth, meet with a mercy
you have in no wise deserved."  Here he paused and scowled vindictively
upon Barbara.

"The sentence of the court is that you shall be imprisoned for the space
of two years in the common gaol of this city.  Furthermore, ye shall
to-morrow, and once every month in the two years of your imprisonment,
be scourged publicly by the common hangman, in the open market-place.
By this discipline it may be that the hardness of your heart shall be
melted, and you shall recognise the power of that justice which you have
dared to condemn."

A shudder of horror went round the court at the pronouncement of this
brutal sentence; but Barbara controlled herself; indeed, she did not yet
fully realise what had befallen her.

She raised her head defiantly and returned the judge’s glance of triumph
with a calm smile.

"Farewell, my Lord Jeffreys," she cried, "and may God prosper you as you
deserve."

She walked proudly from the chamber and still scarce realising the
horror of her sentence, she passed from the court house, surrounded by
her guards, and emerged into the street.

In the centre of the market-place stood a crowd of loafers, rough
fellows, and troopers of Kirke’s horse, to whom, however, she gave but
little heed.  But as she was being escorted by the outskirts of the
crowd, a sudden sharp cry rent the air, followed by horrible shrieks of
pain.  The crowd parted for an instant, and she beheld a woman, one of
the peasant-women who had shared her sleeping-room the previous night,
bound to the whipping-post, her back bare, and streaming with blood, her
face distorted with suffering.  Then the shrieks were smothered in a
shout of coarse laughter from the troopers, the crowd closed round the
scene, and her guards hurried her forward.

It was but the glimpse of an instant, but in that instant Barbara
realised her own doom; it was as though she had beheld a vision of her
own fate, and at length she understood.

She reached the shed, still to be her temporary prison, giddy with
horror, the shrieks of the woman still resounding in her ears, and worse
than these, that sickening shout of brutal laughter which made her blush
and tingle with shame as she pictured the coarse jest that had doubtless
given rise to the merriment.

With clenched teeth and drawn face, she hurried into the shed,
struggling to master this fear which clutched her heart.  She knew that
she must not think of it.  She must talk, work, do anything, anything;
but think of it she dared not.  But, alas! what else remained for her.
The company in the shed was reduced to a few stolid peasants, who could
not have comprehended her fears, and some half-dozen rough soldiers,
mercenaries in Monmouth’s army, who sought to while away the hours and
drown their cares with dice and drink procured, no doubt, by the
corruption of an indulgent sentry.

All her friends of the previous day had been removed. The only other
female occupant of the shed was the strange old woman, the fanatic, who,
when the girl timidly approached her, gazed upon her with unseeing eyes
and continued to mutter and gabble her tests.

Nowhere was there comfort for Barbara; she was utterly alone.  In vain
she strode about the shed, tried to fix her mind upon the past, upon the
traditions of her family, upon the boasted courage of the Winslows. In
vain she repeated verses, recalled stories, anything to distract her
mind, she could not control her thoughts, could not drive the face of
the tortured woman from before her eyes, nor banish from her ears the
terror of her cries.

It was now dark and her nerves were overstrung, worn out completely with
the excitement of what she had passed through.  The thing had come upon
her so unexpectedly she had no resistance to offer, and now in the
silence and loneliness of the night the full horror of the future
gradually dawned upon her mind.  She pictured with all the vividness of
a strong imagination every detail of the life before her; death itself
seemed easier to face than this nightmare of shame and torture.  She
sobbed with terror.  Fear took possession of her soul, and she suffered
as only those of strong will and high courage can suffer in their
moments of weakness.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*


Lady Cicely, who was overcome with the effects of her encounter with
Jeffreys and the attendant incidents of the previous evening, had not
the courage to attend the sitting of the court, although Master Lane had
ascertained that her cousin’s trial might be expected to take place
during the day.  She sat hour by hour in the quiet house waiting for her
host to bring her news of the verdict.

Prudence was unusually silent and depressed.  She had been severely
blamed by her mother for her share in the expedition of the previous
evening; moreover, the sight of her friend’s misery sobered her into a
quite unwonted gravity.  Deborah, on the contrary, passed the day in a
state of hysterical excitement.  Like so many otherwise kind-hearted
women she possessed in a large degree that morbid love of horrors, which
is erroneously considered to be an attribute of the uneducated classes
alone.

At intervals during that terrible day, she darted in with some fresh
tale of misery, culled from the gossip of the neighbours or the chatter
of the maids.  She poured forth these stories with an air of eager
excitement, nay, more, of intense enjoyment, ill-concealed beneath a
grave head-shaking and copious exclamations of pity and horror.

"They have built up a scaffold in the market-place," she announced
rapturously.  "Oh! ’tis terrible to see it.  Martha Hemming saith she
could not sleep for the sound of the hammering, and thinking of all the
poor creatures to be hanged there.  ’Tis said they mostly go straight
from their trial to be hanged.  Think on’t. They may be hanging now, the
poor fellows.  ’Tis said, down Dorchester way, the judges sent three
hundred to be hanged, and my Lord Jeffreys hath said it will not be his
fault if he doth not depopulate this place.  ’Tis terrible.  ’Tis as it
was in July.  Dost mind it, Prudence, after the fight at Sedgemoor, when
Colonel Kirke first came here?  They hanged them on the signpost of the
Inn.  Oh! ’twas too horrible.  Joan Marlow saw it.  ’Twas said that one
wretch was strung up and cut down again four times ere he died.  Think
on’t.  And the troopers jesting at him the while.  ’Twas a fearsome
time!  I doubt not ’twill be yet more dreadful now.  ’Tis a wonder such
things should be.  One can but pity them though they be rebels."

So she rattled on, while Cicely sat by shuddering with horror.

Later in the day Deborah became still more profuse and detailed in her
narratives.

"They say my Lord Jeffreys is fair raging.  Some say he is mad or drunk,
for he laughs and jests, and then again bellows with fury.  What a man
it is!  But, oh!  Prudence, I had nigh forgot.  Philip Harke is hanged.
Straight from court they took him, hanged him till he was well-nigh
spent, then cut him down and quartered him.  The horror of it!  And none
dare tell his wife; but she was out ere they knew, and saw his head on a
pole in High Street, and has turned silly, they say.  And small wonder
too; I shall not dare to walk the streets for a month.  Praise be to God
we have no friends among them, saving, of course, your cousin, Lady
Cicely, yet ’tis terrible to see the heads and corpses.  And the
market-place must be a shambles, they say."

"Peace, peace, Deb.  ’Tis too horrible."

"Aye, is’t not indeed so?  They say there be a thousand prisoners, all
told.  Yet belike ’twill not be death to all, though his lordship has
vowed to show no mercy. And the women; there be many among the victims.
’Tis truly awful.  Mistress Brown from over by Lyme, I know not rightly
of what she is accused, yet I think ’tis but a matter of some rash
words, as that she would pay the excise dues to King Monmouth, or some
such folly, but she is condemned to be scourged through every
market-place in the country.  And they say she as like not to be the
only one to meet with such a sentence. But to think on’t.—A woman—and
but for a rash tongue.  Why, who is safe?  To be scourged!  Oh! ’tis
brutal."

"Child!  Child!  Will you drive me mad?" cried Cicely, unable to endure
more.  "Be silent."

Deborah stared at her in amazement.

"Indeed, I am sorry I have offended your ladyship," she murmured
somewhat sulkily; "though I see not how. ’Tis but natural to feel pity
for such misery, though they be but rebels and doubtless deserving of
their fate. Yet ’tis horrible for all that.  Martha Hemming saith she
had seen——"

"Be silent, girl, I will hear no more," cried Cicely, springing to her
feet in desperation.

And then she stopped, and her heart leaped in terror, for she heard in
the hallway without the voice of Master Lane, calling to his wife, and
she divined by his tone that the news he brought was ill.

She went out calmly to meet him.

"Prithee, tell me, sir, tell me all," she asked in a strange, quiet
voice.

Master Lane started at sight of her.  He hesitated, looking for his wife
to come to his aid.  Then, meeting the agonised look in her eyes he
paused no longer, but stepped forward to take her hand between his own,
and told her gently, tenderly, the terrible sentence passed upon her
cousin.

"Even now I know not truly how it befell," he continued sadly.  "The
poor child was overwrought.  She bandied words with the chief justice,
she defied him. He is not a man to brook defiance, and he revenged
himself.  But ’tis not likely they will carry out their sentence.  Money
can do much, influence more.  We will talk it over together.  Perchance
you might go to London, ’tis not to be doubted but his Majesty will have
pity upon her youth.  You must see the Queen; she will surely show mercy
to a woman.  I will do what I can to work upon my Lord Jeffreys; I have
friends who have some influence over his lordship, and they say money
can do much; I doubt not she shall soon be pardoned. Come, my child, we
must be brave; we must not despair."

He patted her hand kindly, full of pity for her misery. Cicely listened
to all in a strange apathy.

"No," she muttered dully, "no, we must not despair, not despair."

Then she turned from him slowly and mounted the stairs to her room in
perfect silence.

Master Lane looked after her anxiously.

"Poor thing!  Poor thing!" he muttered, his eyes glistening with tears.
"’Tis hard indeed for her. Very hard."

Then he turned to find his wife, feeling his helplessness in the face of
this strange, silent misery, and seeking to ease his mind of the burden
of a sorrow he could neither grapple with nor relieve.

Cicely paced her room dry-eyed, trembling, striving to realise this
horror which had befallen them, striving to picture the execution of
such a sentence upon her tender, beautiful young cousin.  She could not
do so. She repeated the words of the sentence again and again till they
jangled through her brain, yet she could not believe it, she remained
unmoved.

Then suddenly there flashed across her mind the question: "How shall I
face Rupert and tell him this?"

And on the instant her strange apathy vanished, on the instant she
understood the full horror of the sentence.

Oh! how could she face Rupert?  Rupert whose love for his sister and
whose pride in that sister had almost excited her jealousy; Rupert,
whose last words to herself had been: "Take care of Barbara, and keep
her out of mischief."  How could she face him, see the love and trust in
his eyes, the bright, brave smile upon his lips, and tell him that
Barbara had suffered shame, imprisonment, torture, and she had done
nothing, nothing to save her?  No! rather let her die than face her
lover with that tale upon her lips.

She flung herself upon her bed in a passion of weeping.

But what could she do?  The Winslows were not rich, she had little money
to offer these brutal judges, if indeed a reprieve were to be bought.
She had few relations, their influence at court was but small.  It would
take much time even to gain access to the King, and in the
meanwhile——she shuddered at the thought.

She had made one appeal to the chief justice, alas! how vain an one;
even yet the remembrance of it filled her with terror.  She could not,
dared not again face that terrible man, again kneel to him for mercy.

Aye, but for Barbara? for Rupert?  Truly for their sakes she would do
even this.  But the hopelessness of the attempt, the impossibility of
moving, by an appeal of hers, that pitiless heart!  The conviction of it
crushed her brain.

And yet, surely, there must be one influence to move him, one road to
his favour.  Surely, no man living can be absolutely immovable,
absolutely indifferent.  Ah! could she but discover the key to his mercy
how eagerly would she sacrifice all to win it!

She opened her window, and leaned her hot temples against the casement,
breathing the cool evening air. Two men passed in the street below,
discussing gravely the events of the trial.  Their words floated up to
her on the breeze.  She caught the name of the lord chief justice.

"Ah!" said one, "the only sure road to his favour is by the informing of
a rebel.  He hath been known to extend a pardon, if he may thereby gain
information of a more profitable victim.  He is drunk with blood, and
crazy for gold."

They passed on, their footsteps echoing down the empty street.

"The only sure road to his favour is by the informing of a rebel."

The words rang in her ears, repeated again and again.

So therein lay the secret to win him.

Well, and surely that were easy.  Did she not know of many a rebel, in
hiding near her own village of Durford?  It needed but a word to unearth
them all.

"But it must be a more profitable victim," not a poor peasant who could
pay no penalty save death.

Well, and could she not supply that information also? While Captain
Protheroe went free, was there not a rebel to be apprehended, a rebel or
protector of rebels, surely much the same?  For had he not himself
confessed to Barbara that he had connived at Rupert’s escape, though
knowing well his hiding place?  That surely was enough to hang a man,
and a man indeed deserving to be hanged, seeing ’twas undoubtedly he who
had betrayed Barbara!

Ah! what was this horrible temptation seizing upon her?  She shuddered
at the power of it.  To betray a man to his death, a man, moreover, who
had protected Rupert!  She could not—she could not.  There was dishonour
in the very thought.  A Winslow a traitor! traitor to the hand that
helped him!

"Oh, God!" she wailed, "what can I do?  And how shall I live if I do
it?"

And yet that Captain Protheroe had betrayed Barbara in the end, she
firmly believed.  And Barbara had risked so much for Rupert’s sake, and
Barbara was in danger, and must be saved.  What mattered it then though
she, Cicely, were guilty of this treachery, at the despicable thought of
which she shuddered?  The shame would lie hidden in her own heart, the
loss of self-respect would be hers alone to bear, the matter would lie
between herself and her conscience.  Barbara would be saved, and what
was her own peace of mind compared with the life of Rupert’s sister?

Impulsively she donned her hat and cloak.  She dared not pause lest her
resolution should fail her, lest her terror of the man to whom she was
going should sap her resolve, or her horror of the treachery weaken her
determination.

She descended the stairs softly, unobserved.  The house was very silent.

But at the door she encountered Prudence, who hurried forward eagerly to
know whither she was bound.

"Do not stop me, Prue," she answered in a strange, cold voice.  "I am
going to the White Hart Inn."

"To the White Hart!  Not, surely, to see——"

"Yes, to see my Lord Jeffreys.  I have——I have information to give him."

"But Lady Cicely, you cannot go alone.  ’Tis impossible.  Wait at least
till dad can bear you company. Nay, you must, indeed."

Cicely put her aside firmly.

"No, Prue, I cannot wait.  That which I have to do I must do at once, or
perchance ’twill never be accomplished.  Leave me to go my way."

She passed out into the street.  Prudence stared after her in
hesitation.  Despite her youth, her quick burgher-wit taught her, far
more clearly than Cicely, the dangers of such an errand undertaken
alone.  She knew, far better than did the elder girl, with her sheltered
life and breeding, the nature of such men as bore the chief justice
company in his nightly carouses at the White Hart Inn.

"No, no," she muttered.  "She cannot go alone, alone among those
devils."

Quickly she snatched up hood and cloak and followed Cicely into the
quiet street.

Cicely scarce noted the presence of her companion. She hurried forward
rapidly through the half-deserted streets, looking neither to right nor
left, heedless of those terrible signs of butchery which greeted them at
every corner, and at sight of which Prudence shrank and shuddered with
horror.

At the inn the chief justice sat at supper with the circle of
boon-companions whom he had collected from among the followers of his
circuit.

At the door of the inn a sentry barred the girl’s entrance, and to
Cicely’s request for audience with the lord chief justice, his reply was
that the business must wait, seeing that his lordship was at dinner.

In vain Cicely pleaded for an interview however brief, in vain she
protested that her business was urgent, her information of the utmost
importance, even in vain she offered him money, the man was obdurate.

From the row of open windows above came the clink of glasses, the murmur
of men’s voices, at times a loud burst of laughter.  Cicely glanced from
the unmoved face of the sentry up to the open windows of the room in
which was the man she sought.  She had carried her resolution so far,
she could not endure the thought of failure now.

As she glanced upward an officer lounged into view at one of the windows
and stared carelessly down on the group below.

"By Mahomet!" he exclaimed.  "A petticoat.  Two, i’ faith, and main
pretty baggages into the bargain."

He turned and said something to his comrades, and the jest was greeted
by a burst of coarse laughter.

Other men crowded to the windows and stared down curiously at the two
girls, and as the first speaker turned away, the babble of voices in the
room grew, louder.

Presently the officer appeared in the doorway of the inn, and with a bow
of mock politeness requested the ladies to honour him by placing their
difficulties in his hands, and telling him the nature of their business
with the lord chief justice.

Shrinking involuntarily before the bold appraising looks with which the
man surveyed her face and figure, Cicely nevertheless answered bravely
enough that she possessed certain information concerning a rebel, but
could confide her knowledge to none save Lord Jeffreys himself.

"’Tis not his lordship’s custom to deal with any business at so late an
hour," answered the officer.  "Yet a request from those fair lips can
never go ungranted, so, an you will permit me, I will act as your
advocate, and plead with him for an interview.  He would scarce refuse,
did he know what a pleasure his consent would afford him."

He led the girls into the inn, and with another low bow, and a last
critical survey left them in the passage and mounted to the room above
with his report.

Evidently the report gave complete satisfaction.  It was received with
roars of laughter and a burst of eager questioning, and in a very short
space of time the officer reappeared below, and requested Cicely, with a
great show of politeness, to accompany him to the presence of the lord
justice.

"I have so favourably reported to his lordship, madame, that he is as
eager to see you as ever you can be to see him; indeed, ’tis yourself
should be the most powerful advocate."

"You are very kind, sir," faltered Cicely.

The man’s manner made her shudder, but as she turned to accompany him
upstairs, followed by the reluctant Prudence, her heart leaped in
triumph at having so easily overcome the first obstacle in her path.
Surely now she was on the road to success.  But when her companion flung
wide the door, and bowed her elaborately into the room above, she
stopped with a low cry of astonishment and fear, and the glad triumph
died within her.  For then only did she understand that her interview
was not to be, as she had supposed, with the lord chief justice alone,
in the privacy of his chamber, but that it was in the presence of these
half-drunken roysterers, whose coarse laughter heard in the street below
had stung her cheeks to crimson; it was before these drinking, jesting,
pitiless men that she must tell her tale, and urge her plea.

It was too late then to retreat, but as she stood in the doorway, and
surveyed with anxious eyes the room and the company assembled there, a
vague, inexplicable fear took possession of her heart, and involuntarily
she groped for Prue’s hand, and drew the girl closer to her side.

Down the centre of the room ran a long table, plentifully furnished with
meats and wines, at which were seated some of the officers of the troops
quartered in the town, the judges, and a sprinkling of the officials of
the circuit, and several pliable Tory gentlemen of the neighbourhood.
Candles were lighted on the table, and as their rays illumined the faces
of those who sat at meat they revealed no face that did not bear the
clear stamp of debauchery and wickedness.  For even in that callous and
licentious age it would have been hard to find in all the length and
breadth of the realm a viler and more despicable coterie than this
company of noted officers, honoured judges, and highborn satellites who
sat at the board of the lord chief justice of England.

At the head of the table sat my Lord Jeffreys, the very picture now,
despite his ailment, of jovial good-humour.  He had laid aside alike the
severity of the judge and the ferocity of the man, and as he lounged at
ease while the wine circulated freely, he warmed in the flattery of his
comrades, and cracking jests and capping stories, was himself the leader
and head-spring of their boisterous mirth.

On his right hand sat the commanding officer of the district, Colonel
Kirke.  And it was at sight of the latter’s face that Cicely first
realised to the full what manner of men were these before whom she
stood.  For nature is not to be gainsaid, and now, even as in the days
of Cain, she imprints upon a man’s features the sure tokens of his sins.
But no longer, as in that age of the world’s innocence, do men flee
forth into the wilderness to hide their shame, rather they walk abroad,
regardless of the mark upon their foreheads, knowing well that none will
dare to call them to account.

And surely, in all the annals of our history, never was there a man more
hardened in cruelty, more steeped in licentiousness than this same Percy
Kirke.  Yet the man was a great soldier, an able commander, fearless as
death itself.  But withal one whom no man could hold in honour, whom no
woman could trust, for he would accept a bribe or betray a woman with
the same ease and satisfaction as he would toss off a cup of wine.

As Cicely and her companion were ushered into the room the colonel was
leaning across the table whispering a story into the ear of the lord
chief justice.  The rest of the company turned silent as the two girls
remained timidly in the doorway shrinking from the cold gaze of so many
pairs of eyes.

At length, the story ended, Lord Jeffreys burst into a roar of laughter,
turned slowly in his chair, and after eyeing the two trembling women for
a moment in silence, snarled:

"Come, girl!  ’Tis damned wearisome to be troubled with affairs of state
at this hour of the night, but since ye are here, say your say.  What do
you want with me, eh?"

"I entreat your lordship’s pardon for this intrusion," began Cicely
timidly.  "An I might see your lordship alone——"

"What?  An assignation!  Oh! fie, madame," cried the chief justice,
glancing round at his companions with a mocking smile.  Then he
continued sharply, "Nonsense, girl.  Say what you want here and now, or
leave it unsaid and begone."

Seeing no escape Cicely called up all her courage and proceeded to urge
her plea.

"I have come hither on behalf of my cousin, Mistress Barbara Winslow,
who was to-day sentenced to——to a most cruel punishment.  I am here to
beg your lordship to think mercifully of the matter and to grant me her
pardon."

Lord Jeffreys glanced at the speaker with a quick scowl.

"How’s this?" he cried sharply.  "What means this? Am I never to hear
the end of this pestilent woman? Is all the world mad concerning her?
But we will have no pleading here.  You have come, I am told, to lay
information against a rebel.  Beware, madame!  If you have no such
errand, if you have tricked us, the worse for you."

"Nay, my lord," answered Cicely, trembling.  "I have not deceived you.
I have information, not indeed of a rebel, but of one who hath connived
at an escape. But I will give it only in return for my cousin’s free
pardon.  On no other consideration."

"Say you so, indeed.  And who may you be, madame, who dares to dictate
terms to his Majesty’s representatives? Have a care, madame, have a
care."

"It matters little who I am, my lord," answered Cicely with some spirit,
"save only this.  I am no spy, no common tale-bearer.  I would not
willingly lay information against any man, and I vow that, do what ye
may, I will not speak a word further on the subject till I have your
assurance of my cousin’s pardon."

Lord Jeffreys scowled savagely, but she met his glance unflinchingly,
and he turned away with an oath and swallowed a glass of wine.

"Well!  Well!" he exclaimed testily.  "Out with thy story, girl.  Who is
this rebel?"

"You swear to me my cousin shall be pardoned?"

"Aye, aye.  You shall have her pardon, an the affair prove serious enow
to merit it—a hanging matter. Now, the name of your rebel, and be
speedy, madame."

"’Tis—’tis Captain Miles Protheroe."

"Miles Protheroe!"

A shout of astonishment from the officers present greeted the name, all
eyes were turned on the informer. Only Colonel Kirke remained silent,
but he turned in his chair, and leaned forward with an eager glint in
his eyes, and his teeth gleamed white behind his black beard.

Then Cicely told her story.  The silence, the universal attention
frightened her.  She stammered, broke down, struggled on again.  Only
the thought of Barbara nerved her to a finish.  Jeffreys helped her by
an occasional sharp question, the rest of her audience sat in silence.

When she had finished her tale she turned to the lord chief justice
eagerly.

"Is—is that a hanging matter, my lord?" she asked, shuddering
involuntarily at the question.

"Oh, aye, ’twill serve, I doubt not."

"Then the pardon, my lord," she urged timidly.

"Pardon?  Eh, what?  What pardon?"

"For my cousin, Mistress Winslow.  You swore she should be pardoned, if
I spoke."

Jeffreys looked round the table with a low laugh of amusement.  Then he
slowly drained his glass.

"To be sure," he said.  "To be sure.  She shall be pardoned, freely
pardoned—when her sentence has been executed."

Cicely’s heart grew suddenly cold.

"My lord!  What mean you?" she gasped.  "Surely—you cannot——No!  No!
You swore to me she should have a free pardon."

"So she shall, so she shall," assented the judge.  "A full and free
pardon, two years from to-day.  I’ll answer for it."

Cicely held out her hands in helpless entreaty.

"Ah! no, my lord.  Surely you are jesting with me," she cried.

"Tut, you fool," he answered impatiently.  "Do you deem a pardon is so
easily won?  Jesting, forsooth; aye, ’tis a jest, i’ faith," he laughed
brutally, "but I doubt if Mistress Winslow will find it so.  They shall
tell her on’t after her first taste of the whip, and see if her wits can
mark the humour on’t."

He laughed heartily at this suggestion, some of his comrades and
satellites joining in his mirth.

But Cicely gave way utterly.  She fell at his feet; she sobbed out
desperate entreaties to pitiless deaf ears.

"Ah! no, no, my lord, it cannot be, you cannot mean it.  Say you do but
jest.  Surely it is enough, this thing that I have done.  For I have
told you, told you all I know.  Ah! tell me what more I can do, what
more to win her pardon.  Indeed I will do anything—anything, an you will
but pardon.  Ah! my lord, my lord!"

Jeffreys looked down at her and laughed.  Then he poured himself another
glass of wine, and pushed the bottle on to his neighbour.

"Take her away!  Take her away," he said testily, pushing her with his
foot.

Cicely would have renewed her plea, but Prudence Lane, realising that
any such effort would be useless, and apprehending that to remain longer
in such dissolute and abandoned company might be to court insult even of
a more degrading character, leaned down to her companion, and with a
whispered entreaty, drew her to her feet.  The door was flung open for
their departure and the two girls, Cicely clinging to her friend’s arm
for support, were ushered from the room, and thence into the High
street.

In heavy silence they retraced their steps homeward, but had not
proceeded far, when upon turning a corner they ran almost into the arms
of Captain Protheroe. He had been absent from Taunton since the previous
day upon a mission in the west, and was now on his way to the White Hart
Inn in search of Colonel Kirke to make his report.

Cicely recoiled from him with a cry of remorseful horror, but he stepped
eagerly towards her.  Though they had never spoken together, he knew her
well by sight.

"Lady Cicely Winslow!" he exclaimed in glad astonishment.  "What brings
you to Taunton at such a time?  ’Tis no ill news, I trust.  And Mistress
Barbara?  Is she here likewise?"

Cicely stared at him, her eyes wide with a momentary terror.

"You know, you must know," she exclaimed in a low, hard voice.  "No!  I
will not believe but ’twas you who betrayed her.  I dare not.  I should
go mad else at what I have done.  No! ’tis true, you are but mocking
me."

Her words had almost a ring of entreaty in them.  She could not, would
not believe his innocence; would not be deprived of this last plea in
justification.

He stared down at her in amazement.

"On my soul, Lady Cicely, I do not understand one word of what you are
saying," he exclaimed.

Cicely remained sullenly silent.  He turned to Prue for an explanation.

"What means all this?  Where is Mistress Barbara Winslow?"

"In prison, sir, for harbouring rebels, sentenced for two years, and to
be scourged every month in the open market-place.  If, as her ladyship
says, this is your doing, you may be proud of your work."  She tossed
her head defiantly.

"In prison!  Here in Taunton!  Impossible, girl. You must be mad to say
it," he urged in desperate eagerness.

Prudence would have responded with an outburst of scorn, but Cicely
seized her by the arm and dragged her down the street.  Indeed the poor
lady was half demented.  The sudden appearance of Captain Protheroe had
brought vividly before her mind the full significance of what she had
done, and with that strange stubbornness which possesses those worn out
in mind and body, she sought to shelter herself from the stings of
conscience behind the plea of justification in view of the criminal and
despicable nature of the man she had betrayed.  As she herself said, she
dared not believe in his innocence.  Her only comfort lay in convincing
herself that he was even as those to whom she had betrayed him.

Captain Protheroe stared after their retreating figures in the deepest
astonishment, but his astonishment quickly gave place to horror as he
realised the meaning of their words.

To be imprisoned, scourged by the brutal soldiery, this girl, so young,
so tender, so beautiful!  He ground his teeth with rage as he hurried
forward.

"This is one of Jeffreys’ deviltries, I doubt not," he muttered.

He had heard of many such, had heard of them with a shudder of loathing,
and passed on in disgust.  But that she—that they should dare to lay
hands on her! Instinctively his hand went to his breast, where lay
concealed the knot of scarlet ribbon.  He trembled at the sudden, awful
horror of the thought.

But he was a soldier, a man of action, not one to waste time in futile
imaginings while there was work that might, that must be done.  With an
effort he pulled his thoughts together and reviewed the situation, while
he strode rapidly towards the White Hart Inn.

"There is but one thing to be done," he muttered. "An appeal from me to
Jeffreys or to Kirke were worse than useless.  I must to London.
General Churchill will refuse me nothing, and he is high in favour with
the King.  He can procure a pardon—he shall do so.  I will get leave at
once, and start to-night.  When she is free and safe, _then_ to find the
man who has informed against her.  But before all she must be released."

So he determined, as he went rapidly on his way.

Meanwhile in the upper chamber of the White Hart Inn the carouse
continued.  The babble of tongues and roars of laughter once more
disturbed the peaceful silence of the evening.

After Cicely’s departure Lord Jeffreys exercised his wits sharply upon
the subject of his late applicant’s visit, and his companions joined in
his humour.

But despite the boisterous merriment an air of depression hung over many
members of the company. This sudden accusation levelled at one of their
comrades, for an affair so trivial in their eyes, and yet adjudged by
the chief justice as worthy of death, roused an anxious terror in their
hearts that would not be stilled.  For if this man indeed be brought to
punishment, upon whom might not the next thunderbolt fall; who could be
accounted safe?  Were they not all equally guilty, and equally open to
betrayal?  They eyed the judge nervously, and trembled while they
laughed.

Only Colonel Kirke made no attempt to hide his preoccupation, though it
sprang from another cause.  He sat grave, silent, biting his lips in
thought, while that strange gleam of ferocity deepened in his eyes.

At length Lord Jeffreys turned to his neighbour, and rallied him
good-humouredly.

"Come, Percy," he cried, "you don’t drink.  Why, what ails you, man?
Have you lost your heart to yon fair fool, eh?"

"No, my lord.  I’ faith, I have clean forgot her."

"But not her story, eh?" asked the judge, glancing at him with a
sinister smile, for he was quick to read men’s thoughts, and guessed at
the anxiety in his companion’s thoughts.  "Come, about this rebel
officer of yours.  What of him?  Shall we wink at the matter?"

His lordship was no hypocrite; that which he did, justly or unjustly, he
made little attempt to hide, and certainly among his boon-companions,
the taking of a bribe, or the winking at a fault were subjects for free
discussion.

Kirke pushed aside his glass, and leaned across the table, speaking in a
low voice:

"This is my affair, my lord.  This is a matter for court-martial.  Let
me try the man."

Jeffreys laughed good-humouredly.

"What! you dog.  You want to handle the crowns, eh!  Is it a rich
prize?"

"There’ll be no crowns in this case," said Kirke with a grim smile.
"This is a matter for punishment."

"What, colonel!  Turned honest, eh!  Why, man, if all reports are true
you’ve done the same yourself, a thousand times, tho’ certes you’ve more
frequently pocketed the reward than spared the life."

"Maybe.  But they have grown restive on the subject at Whitehall of
late, damn them!  My Lord Sunderland has been pleased to complain.
Well, we’ll make an example of this one."

"Tut! man.  Have your way, court-martial an you will, but never hang the
fellow.  His friends won’t pay for his carcase.  There are enough and to
spare for hanging; this fellow should yield a goodly profit."

"Years ago, my lord," answered the colonel grimly. "this man and I were
in France together.  We quarrelled concerning a slip of a girl; he
professed to mislike my methods of dealing with her and laid his cane
across my cheek in public.  When I cried for satisfaction he refused,
saying he did not measure swords with a bully.  He is a swordsman, curse
him; it was useless to brand him as a coward; I had no redress.  That
was twelve years ago.  I feel the stroke of his cane on my cheek again
to-night and here at last is a salve to the bruise.  I’ve watched and
waited, knowing that my chance would come, and now at last he is in my
power. No, my lord, crowns will be of no avail; he shall be tried at
sunrise to-morrow, and shot like a dog at noon."

Throughout this speech the colonel’s tone had grown ever louder, and as
he uttered the last words with a savage ferocity, the door opened, and
Captain Protheroe walked into the room.

"Hullo! colonel, another victim?" he exclaimed. "Who is the wretched
devil who is to be shovelled out of the world so speedily?"

There was deep silence.  Captain Protheroe gazed round in astonishment
at the circle of grave faces, all turned eagerly towards him.  Only Lord
Jeffreys gave a sudden short laugh, as he lay back in his chair and
watched the scene.  For he loved to watch human comedies, if tragedy
lurked behind them.

Then Colonel Kirke spoke:

"Captain Protheroe, you are under arrest.  You will give your sword to
Captain Harrington, and accompany him at once to the guard-house.  I
refuse your parole."

The Captain faced the speaker in astonishment.

"I!  Arrested!  What devil’s foolishness is this?" he cried.  "On what
charge?"

"Set a watch on your words," answered Kirke shortly. "You are charged
with connivance at the escape of a noted rebel, Sir Rupert Winslow."

Captain Protheroe started.  So there was ground after all for the
accusation; it was no imaginary charge, easy to refute; it was a serious
affair, an affair he saw well that might cost him dear.  He hesitated a
moment, then:

"I claim at least to have the matter referred to the General," he said
resolutely.  Neither Churchill nor Feversham, he knew well, would be
severe upon him.

"You are at present under my command, Captain Protheroe," answered Kirke
shortly.  "You will be tried by me.  Captain Harrington, remove your
prisoner."

The Colonel had risen to his feet, and for a full minute the two men
faced each other in silence.  Then Captain Protheroe smiled.  He knew
his enemy’s inveterate hatred, he read the full significance of that
glance.  And yet he smiled.  It was too simple, too obvious.  Not a man
in that room, he knew well, but had been guilty a dozen times of the
same breach of duty as that of which he stood accused, yet they went
free, unpunished, while for himself he saw well there would be no mercy.
The malice was too palpable, he laughed in his enemy’s face.

Not, though it were for his life, would he urge one plea before this
man; his pride forbade him to stoop to entreat the favour of one whose
vengeance he so utterly despised.  Without a word he handed his sword to
Captain Harrington, and turned to accompany him from the room.

"Where is he to be lodged, Colonel?" inquired Captain Harrington
doubtfully.  "In the guard-house?"

Colonel Kirke hesitated.

"No," he muttered to himself.  "’Tis not secure enough.  The fellow is
too devilish popular with the men.  I scarce think my lambs would dare
to revolt, but yet there might be an escape.  I’ll not risk it.  I must
ask you to keep the prisoner for me till to-morrow," he added aloud,
turning to the governor of the prison, who was seated among the officers
at the lower end of the table.

The governor shrugged his shoulders.

"I’ faith, we are full enough," he muttered.  "Tho’ his lordship has
cleared us out a little to-day," he added with a laugh.

"Any hole or corner will serve till morning," persisted the Colonel, "so
it be secure."

"Secure enough; I’ll answer for that," answered the governor as he
scribbled an order for imprisonment.

He tossed the paper to Captain Harrington, an escort was called, and in
a few minutes Captain Protheroe was marching through the silent streets
to his prison.

He was no coward, yet no man in his inmost heart can jest when he finds
himself face to face with a prospect of meeting death.  And as he passed
by the swinging corpses and trunkless faces hoisted on poles in the
market-place, and reflected that in twelve hours he might be even such
as they, he was seized with a wild impotent fury against the fate which
had brought him to such a helpless pass.  Only his soldier’s pride held
him from throwing himself desperately upon his guards, and making one
last, vain, hopeless struggle for freedom.

The distance from the inn to the gaol was not great, and having arrived
at their destination, Captain Protheroe was duly handed over to the
charge of the head-gaoler, who in the governor’s absence consigned him
to one of the large sheds situated near the castle.

Then Captain Harrington, having fulfilled his commission, paused to bid
his prisoner good-night.

"I am grieved about this, Miles," he said anxiously, for the two had
been comrades.  "But keep up your heart; the Colonel cannot really mean
to treat seriously such an affair.  Why, zounds, man, none of us have an
over-clean record in that respect.  He is bound to take some notice of
the accusation, of course, and he bears a grudge against you, we know,
but it can’t mean more than a night or so in prison."

"Do you think so, Will?" answered the prisoner, pressing his
outstretched hand.  "No, Kirke and I have met before, we know each
other.  He’s not the man to forgive an injury, and I’ll be hanged if I
ask him to; tho’," he added with a smile—"there’s not a doubt on’t I’ll
be shot if I don’t."

"Tut, man, it’s never so bad as that.  Keep up your spirits.  And
anything I can do——"

"There are one or two commissions——  But there will be time enough in
the morning to speak of them. You’d best return now and report to the
colonel, or you will get a lick of the rough side of his tongue
yourself, as my Lord Jeffreys hath it.  Good-night.—And Will, here’s a
word of advice from a dying man, beware of women, and it may be you’ll
live to be drowned after all. Now, my man, I am ready," he added,
turning to the gaoler, and with a final nod to his friend, he passed
into the shed.

Captain Harrington stood for some minutes in thought. But despite the
colonel’s threats, he could not believe that he would carry out sentence
of death for so trivial a matter, on one of his own officers.  So with a
shrug and a whistle he turned away, and strode back to the White Hart
Inn.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*


Captain Protheroe leant against the wall, and gazed round his prison
with an expression of deep disgust.

In a corner sat a noisy group of men, seeking as he judged by the dismal
light of a flickering oil lamp, to drown their fears in drink.  For the
rest, the place was silent, and as it seemed to him, deserted, the
prevailing darkness being broken only in places where the moonlight
filtered through the high windows, and fell in splashes of brilliance
upon the floor.

It was in truth a dreary place and one not calculated to raise the
spirits of the new occupant, who stared moodily before him, cursing his
luck.  For he saw no hopeful prospect in the situation and he was by no
means resigned to death now, when he was but beginning to realise the
full joy of living.  Two months ago, he told himself, it had been
different; the world had not so much to offer then, indeed he had not
known that it held so much.  And now, with the new sense of this
knowledge of the world’s gifts teeming in his brain, to go forth and be
shot down like vermin with never a fight for life!  A man should not be
called upon to endure so much.

And then, with a rush, his thoughts turned to Barbara. He could do
nothing for her now.  He could not even save himself, far less afford
protection to another. He groaned aloud as he pictured her suffering,
and again he bitterly cursed his utter helplessness.

Then, as he reviewed the events of the preceding hours, the question
flashed across his brain: "Who had betrayed him?  Who?"  And quick as an
answering flash came the reply, though he strove vainly to deny it
entrance to his thoughts, "Who, but this girl herself, this girl who led
him to the deed, for whose sake he was to die?"  For to none but to her
had he confessed his interview with Sir Rupert, none but she and himself
knew of her appeal to his mercy or of her disclosure to him of her
brother’s hiding-place.  Clear as day the facts lay before him, they
would not be denied; she alone in all the world had the knowledge to
betray him.  And had she not already twice tricked him?  Had she not
plainly refused his friendship, denied him her trust?

This was but the consummation of her scheme.  But that she should have
wheedled him to spare this man, and, when danger threatened have
betrayed him coolly, hoping thereby to save herself!  He raged at the
thought, at the black ingratitude of the action.  And a woman with eyes
as true as heaven, whom he would have trusted even to death!  Where then
could a man repose his faith, if she were worthless?  Better indeed to
die, and be out of a world where women could be guilty of such baseness.

Then a softer mood asserted itself.  He recalled her face, the strong,
proud face with the deep eyes, earnest and sincere behind the mask of
mischief.  He thought of her look when she had stood against him, sword
in hand, to fight for her good name, fearless, resolute, even when
driven to a stand with death seemingly staring her in the face.  Here
was no cowardice, no treachery.  And she had risked her safety to give
her brother an hour’s happiness.

No, it was past belief that such a woman could be guilty of such devil’s
work.  She must be innocent. There might be others—a woman always
chattered—-he knew well she had a glib and hasty tongue.  Or perchance
they forced the story from her, tricked her to the telling of it.  No,
come what might, he would not believe that she had of set purpose
brought him to this pass.  And even if she had, if she had in a moment
of weakness betrayed her benefactor, bartering his life for hers, even
then——

Passionately he drew out the knot of ribbon and pressed it to his lips.

"God bless her!" he murmured tenderly.  "Strong or weak, true or
faithless, God bless her."

And still with that strange density which at times overclouds the
instinct, a thought of the real culprit never crossed his mind.

Again he strove to turn his thoughts back to his own position, to weigh
the prospects of release; but with scant ardour.  Life had little to
offer if he must stand by and see her suffer, and in face of his present
disgrace, he realised his helplessness to assist her.

He continued to gaze moodily before him, idly watching a ray of
moonlight steal across the floor of the shed. To his surprise he saw it
reveal the foot of a woman, and as it climbed to her knee he marked the
desperate tension of the clasped white hands that lay thereon:

"Poor soul," he muttered.  "There is trouble there."

Higher still crept the beam of light till the whole figure was
illumined, and then, as at the drawing aside of a curtain of darkness,
the face of Barbara Winslow emerged slowly from the black shadow, and
appeared before him bathed in a glory of light.

Barbara!  Yes, though at first sight he barely knew her, barely
recognised those pallid cheeks, the dropped jaw, the fixed, staring eyes
wide with fear, all the agony of her terrified spirit written on her
face.

He sprang forward with a cry and crossed the room to her side.  She
turned to him quickly and seized his outstretched hand, all other
feelings submerged in the great terror that held her.

"Oh!  I am frightened, I am frightened," she sobbed in utter
abandonment.  "Indeed I cannot bear it. Sure they cannot truly carry out
the sentence?  I could not endure it, it would kill me, and I cannot die
yet. Help me, help me.  Do not let them scourge me.  I am so frightened,
help me."

What could he do?  He held both her hands tightly in his own, and passed
his arm round her as though to shield her from all hurt.  And she,
forgetting all else in the face of this fear which she felt for the
first time in her life, crouched against him in a paroxysm of trembling
and sobbing.

"Oh!  I know I am a base coward, but what can I do? For I was so happy,
and life was so good, and now I—I, Barbara Winslow, must be scourged
openly in the market-place by the common hangman, month after month,
till assuredly I must die of the shame. Think!  The troopers will watch
and laugh, and I shall be——  Oh! no, no, indeed I cannot bear it; what
shall I do!"

He ground his teeth in helpless, desperate rage.  Wild vague assertions
of help and protection rose to his lips and died away unuttered, for he
knew himself powerless. His heart surged with impotent fury, while she
sobbed in his arms in the very abandonment of fear and misery, the
natural reaction after the proud restraint of the past few days.

But it was only for a little space; the firm clasp of his hands, the
pressure of his arm, gave her the sense of human support and strength
that she lacked.  In a few minutes the cold terror left her, she was
herself again save for backward shudderings at the remembrance of the
emotions through which she had passed.

Drawing her hands gently from his grasp, she lifted her white,
tear-stained face to his with a smile.

"Thank you," she said simply.  "I know not what ailed me.  ’Twas mighty
foolish and yet ’twas terrible enow," she added with a shudder.

He laid his hand on hers again firmly, and she did not withdraw it.  For
a few minutes they sat in silence.

Presently Barbara’s glance wandered to the far end of the shed, where
the group of drinkers sat.

"They are to die to-morrow.  I would I were a man, and knew no fear,"
she murmured enviously.

He smiled.

"Think you they know no fear?  That is the very height of fear that dare
not face the morrow, but seeks forgetfulness thus."

"Could I forget thus?" she asked.

"I would not have thee try, Mistress Barbara: ’tis but a coward’s way."

"Yet ’tis but for one night," she cried hurriedly. "And I cannot bear
this torture of waiting and thinking. Let me not be a coward again.  Let
me not think. Ah! when I think I see it all; the troopers and the prison
and the post, month after month till——  Ah, no, I will not think.  Talk
to me—tell me—tell me why you are here," she continued, for the first
time filled with curiosity as to the reason of his presence.

His heart leaped gladly at her question.

"Do you not know, madame?"

"Indeed no; it cannot assuredly be that you too are a prisoner?"

"Yes.  A prisoner even as yourself, condemned for treason."

"You—a traitor.  Impossible!" she exclaimed naïvely.

"I thank you for the compliment, Mistress Barbara," he answered with a
smile.

"And the sentence?"

"Imprisonment—until to-morrow," he answered lightly.

"And to-morrow you will be free?" she questioned doubtfully.

"Aye, free from every fetter."

Something in his tone startled her.

"It is not so," she cried quickly.  "You are deceiving me."

"Nay, madame.  Is not freedom the supreme gift of death?"

"Then you are to die to-morrow?" she asked in a tone full of awe.

"Court-martial at sunrise, shot like a dog at noon. That is my sentence.
Come, will you not wish me a pleasant voyage?  I confess myself no good
sailor, and do heartily trust they have no storms on the Styx."

He spoke lightly, but she turned from him suddenly with a choking sob.

"Oh!" she cried bitterly.  "How you must despise me for a true coward."

He laughed tenderly.

"Nay, Mistress Barbara, we be all cowards at heart, I warrant, only some
have learned the trick of hiding it. And indeed to one who has faced him
many times, death loses somewhat of his grim aspect.  Besides—" he
continued cheerily, "when a man bethinks him how many of his fellows in
past ages have faced death unflinching, it seemeth but a small matter
for him to follow in their footsteps.  I doubt not we shall meet with
gallant company across the bourne."

"And have you no regrets?" she asked wonderingly.

He looked down at her and his face clouded.

"Aye, madame, one."  He hesitated, then continued in the strange hurried
tones of one who has at last resolved to speak his thoughts, and risk
the consequence.

"Men on their death-beds make strange confessions, madame; here is mine.
For fifteen years I have asked and expected little of life save to win a
name in my profession, and for the rest, to enjoy to the full all the
pleasures that the world had to offer.  I deemed that I had succeeded
fairly in both these, my ambitions, and I was content.  But—two months
since, on a certain sweet night in July, I met a woman.  Not such an one
as the courtesans of Whitehall, not such as are they whom a soldier most
often meets in his way thro’ the world, but such a woman as a man might
dream his mother was, such as he would wish to be the mother of his
sons.  And when I looked into that woman’s eyes I understood for the
first time that all I have sought and won from life was worthless, and
tho’ I have drunk deep of the cup of pleasure, yet all my days I have
been but as a child playing contentedly in the desert, while the door of
an enchanted garden lay unnoticed at my side."

"Were the woman’s eyes indeed so beautiful?" asked Barbara softly.

"Madame, they are as the clear depths of the heavens, wherein a man may
read all the perfection of life.  I have seen her but thrice since first
we met, yet one look into her eyes has taught me more of the reality of
life, of happiness, of love than I ever dreamed of even in the age of a
man’s most golden hopes.  And so, madame, I cannot die without one
regret, the regret that I may not live to deserve the pressure of that
woman’s hand, nor hope to make myself worthy to feel the touch of her
pure lips."

He paused, looking down upon her doubtfully; she did not meet his
glance, but he heard her sigh softly, as she gazed before her into the
darkness.  At length she spoke.

"Then you had been happier had you never seen the woman?  Is it not so?"

"Happier!  No, Mistress Barbara, is it not better for a man to die,
having gazed once upon the glories of the heavens, than to live a
thousand thousand years, nor lift his eyes from earth?"

There was silence between them.

Then Barbara rose from her seat.

"I am weary," she said softly.  "I think I could sleep now, and I would
fain be rested for to-morrow.  I must be strong then; they shall not
think I fear them.  I must rest.  But not in there," she added, gazing
shudderingly at the dark corner behind the screen.  "Not in there, lest
I wake."

Near them lay a pile of straw and loose wisps of wool. These he gathered
together, and spread his cloak upon them.

"It is not much," he muttered discontentedly; "yet it is better than the
bare boards."

"It is perfect," answered Barbara, snuggling down into the warmth of the
cloak.

He knelt to draw it more closely round her.

"Good-bye, Mistress Barbara," he said, raising her hand to his lips.

But she, suddenly raising herself upon her elbow, drew his head down
towards her and kissed him on the lips.

"Good-night—good-bye—and thank you," she whispered simply.

Then she lay down peacefully, and drew the cloak once more around her.

The moon dipped behind a bank of clouds and the prison was in darkness.

Captain Protheroe rose to his feet, and stood for some time gazing
before him, as one half-dazed.  Then he recovered himself with a start,
his eyes flashed, he looked round quickly, his whole body alert for
action.

Die!  No surely not now, he could not die now.  It was impossible; there
must be some way of escape for them both.  If he could but think of it!

But the more he thought thereon, recalling all the tales of prison
breaking and rescue that he had read or heard of, picturing the security
of the shed, the disposition of the sentries, the surer did the
knowledge of his utter helplessness overwhelm him, and yet the more
persistently did he fight against this knowledge, assuring himself
continually that death must be impossible now.



                              *CHAPTER XV*


Prudence sat on a stone seat at the bottom of the high-walled garden
behind her father’s house.  Around her fell the soft moonlight, clothing
the daisied grass and the shimmering trees in a veil of glory.  The air
was full of rich scents, remembrances of the dying sweetness of the
roses, the noises of the street were hushed, and there rested over all a
soft whispering silence, broken occasionally by the rapturous notes of
the nightingale, as he poured forth his soul in an ecstasy of love. The
scene was redolent of the sweet witchery of love, and Prue with her soft
eyes, her glittering hair, and the mischievous dimples deepening in her
cheeks, seemed in the moonlight like some fair enchantress weaving the
spell of her sweet beauty over all around.

There were no traces on her fair face of the horrible scenes of which
but half an hour since she had been a witness, no indication on her
smooth brow of the strain of the last two days.  She had not forgotten
Cicely’s misery and how she lay so still, so silent in the room above;
but the weight of a sorrow which did not touch her personally lay but
lightly upon her young heart, and she had been conscious of a feeling of
relief when she left her friend to the tender care of Mistress Lane and
crept out into the silent, peaceful garden.

A thorough child of nature, she sat calm and happy, her spirits in
harmony with the scene immediately around her, though in the streets
without the drying corpses of innocent men waved their limbs weirdly in
the breeze, and women, their hearts breaking with despair, sat silent in
a grief too deep for tears.

Prudence sat deep in thought.  She had an enterprise in view for the
furtherance of which she foresaw the necessity of laying resolute siege
to the will of Master Robert Wilcox.  She would require his
co-operation, and as she traced out the lines of her campaign, her eyes
glistened brightly, and her lips curved into a roguish smile.  For Prue
was one to scorn an easy dominion, else had she never given her heart to
so resolute a lover as Robert.

So intent was she upon her thoughts that she did not notice the approach
of Master Wilcox himself, walking with rapid step down the trim garden
path; in fact he had been watching her for some minutes in a lover’s
rapture, before she raised her eyes and noted his presence.  Then he
sprang eagerly to her side.

"Ah!  Prue; sweetheart," he cried, with outstretched arms.  "I hoped I
might chance on you here, and yet indeed I scarce dared to hope it."

Prue slipped quickly aside from the proffered embrace. "Good-evening,
Master Robert," she answered with a demure assumption of indifference.
"And pray what may be your errand to me?"

Robert’s hands fell to his side; he stared at her in amazement.

"Why, Prue, my darling," he exclaimed.

Prudence eyed him coldly.

"’Tis a fine evening, Master Robert, and I was enjoying the silence and
solitude of the garden.  Prithee then—your errand?"

Robert hesitated a moment, then he seated himself upon the bench beside
her, and laid his hand on hers.

"Come sweetheart, what is wrong?" he demanded resolutely.

"Nought that I know of," she answered calmly, withdrawing her hand,
"saving only that methinks you are somewhat free with your ’sweetheart’
and ’darling,’ Master Wilcox."

"What!  Must I not call thee sweetheart then, my dearest?"

"In truth I had as lief you did not," she answered curtly.

Robert eyed her a minute doubtfully: then he plunged boldly into the
subject.

"See here, Prue, what is the matter; for what art thou so angry with me?
An it be concerning Janie Medlar, ’tis mere foolishness.  I met her down
by the river, ’tis true, yet ’twas but by chance, and then I could not,
in courtesy, refuse to walk home with her.  Now could I? And the
rose—she asked for it herself—I swear she did.  But no more passed
between us, save the merest—er—nothing whatever.  ’Tis utter
foolishness, Prue."

Prudence smiled to herself; she was learning secrets. But she answered
coldly enough:

"I’ faith, Master Robert, and what is it to me what passes betwixt you
and Mistress Medlar?  ’Tis much, indeed, if I am to call her
rival—pale-faced chit."

"’Tis not that?  Then in Heaven’s name, Prue, what is it?  What have I
done?"

Prue turned and faced him:

"Ah, well said.  What hast thou done, Master Robert? What hast thou done
all thy life save sort wool and enter ledgers?  And yet you would be one
to call a maid ’sweetheart’ and kiss her on the lips.  I tell you, you
must seek elsewhere then, Master Robert, I am not for such as you.  I
will have nought to do with any, save brave men, men proved by action,
not swollen with boasts."

Robert groaned aloud.

"Lord, Prue," he muttered; "not that all over again."

"And wherefore not, Master Robert?  Has a man nought to do save sit till
the apples fall into his lap? Thinkest thou a girl can be wooed by words
alone?  I tell thee thou art mightily mistaken.  If a maid be worthy of
love she is worthy of winning, and winning by deeds, not by empty vows
and foolish boastings."

"Perchance thou wouldst have me join Kirke’s band then, and win thee by
such deeds as those in the market-place yonder," muttered Robert
angrily.

"Indeed that were better than nothing," answered the girl with a mocking
toss of her head.  "Better be one of Kirke’s Lambs, brutes tho’ they be,
than a white-livered wadcomber, caring for neither king nor country so
he have a full belly and a whole skin."

"Now by Heaven, Prue, this is too bad.  ’Tis unfair to taunt me thus
when thou knowest I had ridden gladly with the Duke if I had but been
given the chance, and that I do but bide here at the work to please thy
father, and so clear my way to winning thee."

"Is’t verily so?" laughed the girl scornfully.  "Truly I marvel what men
would do, if they had not women’s petticoats to hide behind."

But this was too much for Robert to endure with patience.  Though he
more than half suspected she was playing with him, for he had watched
her smile as she sat on the bench alone, yet he felt that no man should
be called upon to endure such mockery; for the sake of future peace he
resolved to teach her a lesson.

Roughly dropping the hand which he had taken again to strengthen his
plea, he moved to the far end of the bench, and turned an angry shoulder
to his tormentor.

"So be it, Mistress Prue," he answered.  "An those be your opinions,
’tis useless to talk further on the matter.  I am sorry that my actions
fail to please thee, but on my honour, I do not see that I am in any
wise bound to alter them to suit every whim and fancy of thine.  The
evening is chill; would you not be wiser to go indoors?"

Prue gasped, and gazed at the sulky shoulder with eyes wide open in
astonishment.  The affair had taken a sadly different turn from that
which she had contemplated.  It looked greatly as though this attack
upon the fortress would prove a failure, nay more, as though it would
turn to a defeat and rout of the attacking party itself, did she not
with all speed change her tactics.

Accordingly, with a celerity worthy of a great general, she changed,
upon the instant, her whole plan of campaign, abandoned this frontal
attack, and devised a more subtle method of overcoming such unexpected
resistance.

She tried first the effect of silence; but experience had taught her
that Robert was better skilled in the use of that weapon than she
herself, and indeed it was a struggle to her to keep silence for five
minutes at any time.  She abandoned this course after a very short
trial.

Then she sighed.  Twice, thrice, with the suspicion of a sob in the last
sigh, which she felt must sound infinitely pathetic.  She looked eagerly
for signs of relenting in that stubborn shoulder; Robert was resolute.

The affair was beginning to assume a most serious aspect.  If it
continued thus much longer, she would be forced to haul down her colours
and abandon the siege entirely.  And then what would become of her
schemes?

No.  She must bring all her forces to the attack, and—and—Robert could
not see her where she sat.

She rose and stepped quietly into the deep glow of the moonlight,
standing full before the gaze of her offended lover.

She stood first with her back towards him, plucking nervously at the
petals of a withered rose.  Robert looked at the trim, white figure
outlined against the darker trees, at the soft curve of the averted
cheek.  He looked and wavered.

Suddenly she turned and faced him, standing before him in all the charm
of her saucy beauty.  She shook out her curls till the gold glistened in
the moonlight, she turned her eyes full upon him, and she smiled, a
smile full of mischievous invitation that lurked in her eyes and curved
round her rosy dimpling lips.

It was enough.  Robert stared at her for a moment in silence, then he
sprang towards her and seized her in his arms.

"Ah, Prue, you witch!  You witch!" he cried. "How could I resist thee?
Say what you want, sweetheart.  I will do it, aye, that I will."

"Wilt thou really promise that, Rob?" she asked, nestling into his arms.

"Aye, sweetheart."

"Anything, Rob?"

"Anything you ask," he answered, gazing into her eyes.

"Then, oh, Rob; help Mistress Winslow to escape."

He stared in astonishment.

"What sayest thou?  Prue!  Prue!  ’Tis impossible, ’Tis madness to dream
on’t," he cried.

"You promised to do anything I asked," she complained reproachfully,
straining against his embrace.

"Aye, sweetheart, so I will, so I will."  He pledged himself rashly to
keep her in his arms.  "But this——  How is’t possible?  Would you have
me break into the castle and bear her out by force?"

"She is not in the castle; she is lodged in one of the temporary sheds,"
corrected Prue reproachfully.

"Well, ’tis the same thing, sweet.  Gaol or shed, ’tis prison enow, and
i’ faith, I see not how it be possible to fetch her out."

"Pooh!  What is the use of thy wits, Rob, if thou canst not get the
better of father’s old wool-shed."

"Master Lane’s shed, sayest thou?"

"Aye, truly, she is there.  Dad told me so this morning. The door bolted
and barred, sentries in the street without, and many more in the
guardhouse opposite. I saw them there last Sunday when I passed.  But
what of them.  You can surely outwit such fudge-heads as they."

"Master Lane’s shed," cried Robert again, a strange note of excitement
in his voice.  "Art certain she is there?"

"Aye, certain, Rob.  What then?"

"Prue, who guards the little door in Blind Man’s alley?"

Prue looked at him eagerly.

"What door, Rob?  I mind it not."

"Yes, thou knowest it.  The master’s private door at the near end of the
shed.  They say ’twas put there years ago for old Master Lane, thy
grandfather, to enter secretly and count his bales; maybe for the
entrance of other sorts of goods,—folks say.  For ’tis known he hid arms
and ammunition for the king’s troops in the last war.  It has not been
used for years, and on the inside ’tis still hid behind a pile of sacks,
I doubt not.  But ’tis there."

"Oh, Rob!  I had forgot it entirely.  And oh, I doubt not they have
forgot it too, for I passed thro’ Blind Man’s alley last Sunday even,
and there was no sentry stationed there."

"No, sentry, Prue?  And the key hangs on thy father’s chain."

His voice was hoarse with excitement, he stared before him in dawning
thought.

Prue clasped her hands eagerly.

"Oh, Rob," she whispered.  "What shall we do? What shall we do?"

He turned his head slowly and looked down at her.

"Ah! sweetheart, it’s madness, madness!"

"Yes, Rob, dear, but—let us be mad.  Ah!  do, do."

He hesitated, but his inborn love of adventure tempted him as much as
her eyes.  He yielded to her pleading, and sealed the bargain with a
kiss.

Then they sat down on the bench, hand in hand, and proceeded to mature
their plan.

"Now, sweetheart, we must think with all our wits."

"It must be to-night, Rob," Prue urged.  "They might carry out the
sentence to-morrow.  It must be to-night."

"To-night be it."

"And what shall we do?"

"There is but the one way that I can think of.  Enter the shed by the
hidden door, and fetch her out thence."

"Oh, Rob, that sounds so easy," cried Prue, a note of disappointment in
her voice.

"Does it indeed, madame?" he laughed.  "And what if the door be barred
within, or I meet with a sentry, or the other prisoners should betray
me, or I cannot find the lady, or she will not come?"

Prue gasped in dismay at this terrible list of possibilities.

"Oh! it is too dangerous, Rob," she urged with a sudden shrinking
terror.

"Nay, but we’ll e’en try it.  For indeed I do not think any such
misadventure likely to befall us."

"Then let us set about it at once, Robert."

"Nay, there is much to think on yet.  Where shall I hide her when she is
free of the prison?"

"Bring her here, Rob, by the garden door.  I can hide her in the old
attic for a night or so, and they will never dream of seeking in
father’s house for an escaped rebel, and in a few days Lady Cicely may
win her pardon. But I am coming with you, Rob."

"Certes, no.  Why, I had as lief have my Lord Jeffreys. No, Prue, I mean
it.  If I cannot go alone, I go not at all."

"Oh, but Rob.  I must do something."

"Ay, i’ faith, thou must.  ’Tis for thee to get the key."

"The key!"

"Aye, the key of the shed.  It hangs, as I said, on Master Lane’s chain,
tho’ he hath doubtless forgot the fact, it has been so seldom used.  But
I know it well. Now, how wilt thou get it for me?"

"Oh!  Rob, I know not, i’ faith.  How is’t possible?"

"Pooh!  Where are thy wits, Prue?" he asked teasingly.

"You shall not mock me," she panted.  "But in good earnest, Rob, ’tis
impossible."

"Come, Prue, no despair.  Why, I have seen him hand thee his keys a
hundred times."

"Aye, but that was for the cellar, when he fancied a certain wine at
supper, or maybe for his bureau in the counting-house, to fetch papers
or moneys.  Not—not—Rob!"

"Well!"

"Thinkest thou not, perchance that a glass of hot port wine might help
my Lady Cicely to sleep."

"Prue!  Thou has hit on the very plan.  And once the chain is in my
hands, the key of the shed is ours. But go to thy father quickly, sweet,
or ’twill be too late, and Lady Cicely will fall asleep before her drink
be prepared."

"Oh!  Rob, I shall laugh when I ask him; I know I shall."

"Not you, Prue.  I’ve too good cause to know your powers of acting a
part."

Prue laughed and blushed at this reference to the evening’s quarrel.
Then she sprang quickly to her feet.

"Well, I must do my best.  Do you wait here, Rob, and in ten minutes
I’ll be with you."

She darted across the grass and disappeared into the shadow of the
trees.

Robert awaited her return in a frenzy of impatience. So much depended
upon the success of the girl’s errand, so many obstacles presented
themselves before his mind. For Master Lane might hand her the cellar
key alone instead of the chain, though that were never his way.  Or
Mistress Lane might be with her husband and disapprove of her daughter’s
request.  Or Deb might accompany her sister to the cellar, or Prue
herself, in her excitement, might betray the plot.  Of the danger, the
madness of the undertaking he thought not at all.  Once embarked upon
the enterprise he was carried along by the excitement of the adventure
it promised.  Like Prue, he lost sight of other considerations in view
of the daring of the attempt.

Presently he saw her coming towards him, her white dress gleaming
through the trees, and as he darted to meet her, he heard the jingle of
the keys.  She had succeeded in her quest.

"Here they are," she whispered, her eyes dancing with triumph.  "Take it
quickly, I must not keep Dad waiting.  He was alone.  He gave them
without a question. ’The whole cellar full if ’twill aid Lady Cicely,’
he said.  Is that the one, art sure?  Then give me the chain, and go.
Here is the key of the garden gate. I will watch.  Keep out of danger
and be careful.  But oh!  Rob, is it not fine?  You and I to outwit them
all, my Lord Jeffreys and the governor, and—and the very law itself."

He laughed aloud, sharing to the full her excitement. Then without
further parley he set out on his errand, leaving Prue to her eager watch
for his return.

So these two laid their wild plans in the solitude of the peaceful
garden, while in the castle near, the prisoners rested quietly, resigned
to their fate, and in the brightly lighted room of the White Heart Inn
Judge Jeffreys and his comrades feasted and drank till the night air
rang with their boisterous revelry.



                             *CHAPTER XVI*


Robert Wilcox hastened on his way to the prison with joy in his heart
and excitement in his eyes, at thought of the adventure that promised,
while in the darkness of the prison Captain Protheroe sat with his head
buried in his hands, sunk in the misery of an impotent despair.

No man who has not himself endured it can understand the agony to a man
of Captain Protheroe’s disposition, of acknowledged helplessness.  For
he was essentially a man of action, strong, capable, alert for every
danger, with a ready wit to cope with every obstacle that rose in his
path.  He had never yet learned the meaning of failure.  And now, when
life at last offered him the full cup of his desire; when but four bare
walls stood between him and a freedom so rich that beside it his past
life seemed but an empty waste; now when his whole being clamoured for
action, he could do nothing but sit helpless and inactive, while the
hours slipped slowly away and the day drew near when the woman he loved
must suffer shame and torture with none to support or comfort her.  He
knew it was useless to struggle against his fate, but his whole soul
cried out against submission. Yet he could do nothing, nothing, but sit
rigid, silent, his hands locked together in the fierce misery of
impotent revolt.

Suddenly he stirred, every sense on the alert and listening intently.
At the farther end of the shed his fellow prisoners lay silent, their
sleeping forms dimly visible in the faint light.  Close beside him,
where a pile of bales and sacks was heaped against the wall of the shed,
he seemed to detect the noise of a key turned gently in a rusty lock,
followed by the creak of an unused hinge.  He waited with bated breath
for what should follow.  After a pause the hinge creaked again.

Half incredulous, he crept forward to investigate the cause of the
unmistakable sounds, and began noiselessly to remove the sacks from that
portion of the wall which they concealed.  Two he moved easily, but the
third resisted his efforts.  In vain he pulled, exerting his strength in
an obstinate determination to have his way.  As he became dimly
conscious that the resistance was rather active than passive, it
suddenly ceased, and he stumbled backwards, with the sack in his arms.

Like the full moon on an Autumn evening the fiery head and rosy
countenance of Master Robert Wilcox rose slowly into view above the top
of the piled bales, and peered cautiously into the shed.

For a moment the two stood staring at one another doubtfully.  But as
Master Robert slowly perceived the captain’s uniform, his jaw dropped,
and a look of horror and consternation crept into his face.

"Good Lord!" he gasped, and with a sudden swift movement, his head
disappeared from view.

But Captain Protheroe was no whit behind him in rapidity of thought or
action.  Quick as lightning his arm darted over the sacks, and he
grasped firmly the tousled hair of the intruder.

"Hist, you fool!" he whispered.  "All’s well.  I’m one of the prisoners
myself.  Is it a rescue?"

Slowly the face reappeared and stared doubtfully at the speaker, then
having subjected him to a critical survey, and being at length assured
by the captain’s tone and bearing of his good faith, Master Wilcox
heaved a sigh of relief, and rubbed the sweat from his forehead.

"Phew!  What an escape," he muttered.  "I made sure you were one of
those damned sentries.  Yes, ’tis a rescue, but not for you," he
continued curtly.

"Nevertheless, my friend, I purpose to be one of your party," answered
Captain Protheroe coolly, "I and a lady who is here with me."

"A lady; what lady is she?"

"What is that to thee?"

"Nought, only ’tis a lady I am here to aid; Mistress Barbara Winslow."

"What!  Even so?  Why, well met, friend.  ’Tis even she of whom I spake.
She is sleeping yonder.  I will go bring her and we can slip out quietly
without rousing the others."

Robert eyed him half-doubtfully.

"Be speedy then.  Every minute is danger, for I know not when the
sentries will be round."

"True, there’s no time to lose."

The two had carried on their conversation in whispers; the other inmates
of the shed were undisturbed.

Captain Protheroe now went swiftly to Barbara’s side. She was sleeping
quietly, her cheek pillowed on her hands.  He aroused her gently.

"What is it?" she gasped, in sleepy bewilderment.

"Freedom," he whispered, smiling down at her.

Silently they stole back across the shed, and soon the three stood side
by side in the narrow alley outside.

"Come!" cried Rob, seizing Barbara’s arm eagerly. "There’s not a moment
to lose.  Come!"

But Barbara was now thoroughly awake.  She drew back quickly.

"But the others!" she exclaimed.  "Surely you will not leave them
behind.  They are to die to-morrow."

Captain Protheroe shook his head.

"Mistress Barbara, the risk is too great."

"Oh, but that is rank cowardice," she exclaimed angrily.  "You may do as
you choose, sir, I shall——"

He laid a restraining hand upon her arm.

"Captain Protheroe," she exclaimed indignantly, eyeing him haughtily.

He smiled at her serenely.

"Yield to reason, Mistress Barbara.  You cannot go back."

Barbara turned away angrily, and addressed herself to Rob.

"Cannot you go back?" she asked.

"Not I, madame," was the ready answer.  "You are not safe yet."

Barbara sighed, looked at the pair of them contemptuously, and yielded
to necessity.

"But you can leave the door open," she urged.

Rob hesitated.

"’Twill be a clue," he muttered, but yielded to her plea.  "Now, come,
madame, we must wait no longer."

"Where are you going?" she demanded quickly.

"To Master Lane’s house," he answered impatiently. "Lady Cicely is
there, and——"

But Barbara shook her head obstinately.

"No," she said, "I will not bring trouble upon them. They are loyal
folk, and were I discovered there, ’twould bring misfortune to all.  Did
Master Lane send you to me?"

"No, madame, he knows nought of the venture as yet, but——"

"Then, indeed, I will not go.  I will not endanger them, and Cicely.
’Twould be most cruel."

Rob groaned in desperation.

"Lord!  These women!" he muttered.  "Nay, madame, trust in me and come
at once.  We may be discovered any moment."

Barbara turned to Captain Protheroe.

"Whither are you going, sir?" she asked abruptly.

"I’ faith, I cannot say," he answered doubtfully. "But for you, madame,
it were certainly wiser to follow this gentleman, if he can bestow you
safely."

"I will not," she answered resolutely.

"We’ll all swing for it, an we bide here parleying much longer," began
Rob desperately.

He broke off abruptly, for even as he spoke, a window in the wall
opposite was flung open, and a man’s face peered out into the alley.

Instinctively the three drew back into the shadow. But it was too late.
The disturbed burgess had seen the three figures, and in an instant he
suspected the truth of the situation.

With an exclamation his head disappeared from view, and a moment later
they heard the bolts of a door round the corner of the building shot
back and the man rushed into the street shouting:

"The prisoners are escaping!  Look to your prisoners."

Captain Protheroe seized Barbara’s hand, and they began to run rapidly
down the alley.  They heard the sentinels running up the street and
shouting.  They darted round the corner as their pursuers turned into
the alley.

Rob had disappeared.

The alley led into a wider street, parallel to that in which the
sentries had been posted, at the main entrance to the shed.  Down this
the fugitives turned, but were met by a knot of men running towards the
shouts. Captain Protheroe tightened his grip on Barbara’s hand,
desperately, and ran straight towards them, waving his free arm in the
direction of the prison.

"The prisoners!" he shouted.  "They are escaping, look to them."

The ruse succeeded.  The men hesitated a moment, staring doubtfully at
his uniform, and then proceeded at a run towards the prison, shouting
confusedly.  On they ran right into the arms of the sentries, who at
that moment turned out of the alley.

A few moments of confusion ensued ere the identity of each party was
made clear to the other—moments precious to the fugitives, who ran on
blindly from street to street, little heeding which way they went.

Barbara stumbled as she ran, and her breath came in sobs.  Captain
Protheroe’s grip upon her wrist was like a vice.  Again they turned a
corner, and for an instant they stopped dead; for halfway down the
street, full in their path, the bright light from an open doorway flared
across the road, and in the light stood a group of soldiers eager and
alert.  They had run into a trap.

Their pursuers behind shouted a warning, the troopers in front wheeled
round quickly to face them.

To go back was impossible, to stand still, madness, to run forward into
the arms of these expectant troopers, a desperate chance.  This time no
ruse could avail them.

And then, a few yards on the near side of the lighted doorway, Captain
Protheroe espied a dark opening in the line of buildings.  He darted
towards it and slipped between the black shadows of the houses.

Barbara was spent, but even as they ran into the narrow alley, and as he
felt further effort was hopeless, Captain Protheroe noted an open
doorway, dimly lighted.  It was a desperate chance, his only one.  With
an effort he dragged Barbara into the house, and shut the door behind
him, listening intently, while the girl sank exhausted at his feet.  He
heard their pursuers turn the corner, pass the door unheeded, and
running eagerly on, turn again into the street beyond.  Their shouts and
footsteps died away in the distance, and all was still.

Captain Protheroe turned and surveyed his surroundings. They were in a
narrow, dimly-lighted passage, flanked by a doorway on either side, and
leading to a third door at the end.  The door on the left was open, and
the room to which it gave access, a small parlour, was deserted.

He glanced at Barbara.  She raised her head and smiled at him bravely,
though her breath still came in shuddering gasps, and her face was white
and drawn.

He stooped down, and helped her to her feet, then leading her into the
little parlour, laid her, unresisting, on the settle, and closed the
door.

"Where are we?" she whispered, looking wonderingly around her.

He shook his head.

Just then a door was heard to open in some distant part of the house.
There was a babble of sounds, a shrill voice singing through the verse
of a song, followed by a loud burst of boisterous laughter.

Captain Protheroe, with a quick exclamation, crossed to the window of
the room, drew aside the heavy curtain, and peered out.

Then he turned with a strange expression in his eyes.

"We have walked into the lion’s den, Mistress Barbara," he said.  "This
is the White Hart Inn."

Barbara started to her feet.

"Oh! let us go, let us go instantly," she cried.

Captain Protheroe stood irresolute.

"I don’t know," he said slowly; "it may be we are in the safest place.
At least ’tis the last place where they would dream of searching for
us."

As he spoke, the door at the end of the passage opened, and they heard a
dragging footstep slowly approaching.

Barbara clasped her hands in desperation.

"Lie down!" he whispered sharply.  "Lie down, and turn away your face."

The footsteps drew nearer, the door was pushed open, and a girl carrying
a dim rushlight entered the room. Her dress was untidy, her hair
tousled, her eyes heavy with sleep.

She gave a quick cry at sight of the occupants of the room, and almost
dropped her candlestick in her surprise.

"Why, Sue, what ails you?" Captain Protheroe asked cheerily.

The girl stared at him in bewilderment.

"La, Captain Protheroe, sir, eh! but ye frighted me. I took thee for a
ghost.  What ever be thee here for? Why," she continued with dawning
recollection, "I heard tell as how thee wert took prisoner, and in gaol
along wi’ rebels."

"Arrested, I!  What nonsense," he answered coolly; "’twas but a jest of
Colonel Kirke’s.  They don’t arrest the king’s officers, Sue, my girl.
But look you, this lady hath but just recovered from a swoon.  There was
a disturbance in the streets, and she was thrown down and frightened.  I
brought her in here to recover, before I take her home."

"Eh, poor thing!" exclaimed Sue, eyeing Barbara pitifully.  "The street
is no place for the like o’ her this time o’ night.  But you’re kindly
welcome, sir, and the lady too.  We could not give her a bed, sir, I’m
afraid; but an she wish to rest on mine——"

"Oh, there’s no need to put yourself about, she will be well enow
shortly."

"Would you be wishing for supper, sir?" asked in girl sleepily.

"Supper!  Good heavens, no.  Why it must be near midnight.  I’m for my
bed presently, and methinks ’tis the place for you now.  You look tired
to death, my girl."

"Aye.  I’ve been about since five o’clock this morning," she answered,
yawning.  "Their lordships make a deal of work.  But I’m going to my bed
now, if you want no more, sir."

"Nothing, thank you, Sue."

"I’m sleeping in yonder," nodding her head across the passage.  "Perhaps
you’d call, sir, if you want anything."  Then she added, hesitating, "We
be so full o’ guests now, father sleeps on the settle here.  But he’ll
hardly be down yet, he must see their lordships safe to bed first.
Good-night to you, sir."

She crossed the passage and disappeared through the doorway opposite.

Captain Protheroe broke the silence which followed:

"If you are rested," he said briskly, "I think we had best be gone."

"Must we go?" she asked lazily.

"The sooner we are free from the houses, the better. The landlord may
come here any moment.  They are quieter above stairs already."

Then he glanced across the room.

Through the half-closed doors of a cupboard in the corner he espied some
dishes of meat—cold bacon, a half eaten pasty, several loaves of bread.

"Fugitives cannot be over and above honest," he muttered with a laugh,
as he swept the contents of the cupboard into a cloth, and tucked the
bundle under his arm. "We can make the loss good to mine host, some day,
perchance, and food we must have.  Now, Mistress Barbara, if you are
ready."

He stopped with a look of consternation, for even as he spoke, the
passage door again opened, and they heard a man’s voice calling aloud:

"This way, Master Peters, we can transact our business somewhat more
privately here."

The only possible hiding place the room afforded was the space between
the high-backed settle and the wall. In an instant the two had stepped
back into its shadow, and crouched there, scarce daring to breathe,
hoping only that the dim uncertain light might conceal their presence
from the two men who a moment later entered the room.

The first was a big, burly farmer, with round, red, solemn face and
somewhat wooden cast of countenance. He took up his stand by the table,
facing the settle, but with the light between him and the fugitives.

His companion afforded a marked contrast; a small, thin, wiry,
sharp-featured man.  His pale face was alight with intellect, but his
narrow-set blue eyes were hard as steel, and while seeming to pierce a
man’s inner-most thoughts, yet gave in return no vestige of answering
confidence.  He was soberly suited in black, and carried in his hand an
open letter, and a small bag of gold.

This was no other than Master Stephen Jewars, my Lord Jeffrey’s clerk
and secretary, one in whom it was commonly averred his lordship trusted
more nearly and confided more honestly than in any other living man.

The secretary, laying the letter open upon the table, turned and faced
the farmer.

"You are after your time, Master Peters," he began, "I had expected you
yestere’en."

"Aye, aye," answered the farmer slowly.  "I were in Taunton then, sure
enow, but the mare were took bad and I could not leave her."

"Hum," answered the other somewhat sharply.  "You should recollect,
Master Peters, time is precious."

"Aye, your honour," answered the farmer imperturbably.  "But so is
hosses."

The secretary started angrily, and eyed the solemn face of his companion
doubtfully.  Then satisfied by his scrutiny, his lip curled slightly,
and he proceeded:

"Well, well, now you are here, I need not detain you. I see by this
letter that you successfully carried out your undertaking."

"Aye, aye, sure enough.  I took Master Ferguson to——"

"Master Peters," interrupted the other sharply, "you will do well to
remember this is a matter requiring much circumspection.  We will,
therefore, have no names, if you please."

"Why, there be none here to hearken," answered the farmer, in aggrieved
surprise.

"There is a saying that walls have ears.  You cannot be too careful."

"As your honour pleases," answered the man with a shrug.  "I took the
man, you know who, safe to Lime right under the noses of the troopers,
he lying hid in my cart.  He bided three nights in my house, and then I
shipped him to France wi’ my wife’s cousin."

"’Twas well done, Master Peters, and here is the price for your task."

The secretary handed the man the bag of money, and watched him secrete
it in his belt.  Then he laid his hand on the farmer’s arm, and eyeing
him steadily with those piercing blue eyes, addressed him in a slow
impressive tone.

"And now, Master Peters, there remains but one thing to say to you; a
warning.  You will remember that this matter is an affair of state, and
he who has had aught to do with such affairs does well to keep his eyes
blinded, his ears deaf, and above all, his tongue dumb. If by word of
yours, spoken be it in anger, in boasting, or in drink—if ever, I say,
word of this matter escape you, you will——"

"I’m paid to be quiet; I’m not a man to babble i’ other folk’s affairs,"
interrupted the farmer in an aggrieved tone.

"I knew it, otherwise you had not been chosen for the work.
Nevertheless, bear my words in mind.  The man I serve is all-powerful.
He can reward generously, but he never forgets an injury, and he never
forgives a foe. Good-night, Master Peters, and remember to bear yourself
discreetly."

The secretary let the man out through the door leading into the alley.
He returned to the room muttering to himself.

"I doubt the fellow must be disposed of, he knows too much," he said
slowly.  Then he picked up the letter from the table, and stood for some
minutes gazing at it abstractedly, lost in thought.

"Fool!  Fool!" he muttered at last.  "Madman, to put himself in the
power of such a man.  Of a surety it must work his ruin in the end.  And
all to no purpose, since the papers are still lost.  And yet, what is’t
to me? For an he rise, I shall rise with him, and if he fall—his carcase
must serve as a stepping-stone, whereby I may rise alone."

Thoughtfully he folded the letter, and placed it in his pouch, then
turned again from the room.  They heard him go slowly down the passage,
a door closed, and all was still once more.

The fugitives emerged cautiously from their hiding-place.

"Ferguson!  Ferguson!" muttered Captain Protheroe to himself, as he
wrapped his cloak round his companion’s shoulders.  "Ferguson and
Jeffreys! for assuredly ’twas Jeffreys of whom he spoke.  Now, what the
devil——  But come, Mistress Barbara, we’ll away from here, and leave
them to brew what plots they will."

Barbara pulled the cloak closely round her, and followed him silently
out of the house.  He walked quickly down the alley, and turned into the
silent street behind the inn.  The moon was down, and save for the
occasional glimmer of a lamp, the streets were in darkness.

"Where are we going?" asked Barbara, wonderingly.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"We must get clear of the town, first.  You will not go to your cousin?"
he asked doubtfully.

"No, indeed!  I would not risk danger to Cicely.  And besides I know not
where lies the house."

"Then we throw in our lots together?" he asked, smiling down on her.

"Indeed, sir, I see not what else remains for me," she answered simply,
committing herself to his protection with an implicit faith.

Under his breath he prayed Heaven he might be the means of saving her.

The streets were very silent, they passed on unheeded, avoiding the
watch by careful detours.  Of their former pursuers they heard nothing;
and, indeed, these latter had given up the chase in despair.

As for Robert, with the quick wit of one well versed in such adventures,
experience culled from many encounters with the watch, when his two
companions set off down the alley he had scrambled without more ado
through the very window whence the alarm was first given, and biding
there quietly till the pursuit had passed, he escaped thence as silently
as he had entered, and made the best speed he could back home.

So none hindered the fugitives in their progress, and they hurried on,
with hope ever dawning more brightly before them.

Suddenly a man reeled out of a cross-street, and ran straight into
Barbara’s arms.  He started back with a drunken curse, stared stupidly
down at her, and then passed on.

But when he had gone a few paces he paused irresolutely, looked back
over his shoulder, and then turning, ran unsteadily after them and
seized the girl’s arm.

"Mistress," he said in a hoarse whisper, "I saw thee in court to-day."

Barbara gave a cry of horror and shrank back, Captain Protheroe clenched
his fists, and glanced cautiously up and down the quiet street.

But the man laughed drunkenly.

"Bah!" he cried, "I’ll not betray you, my beauty. ’Tis too pretty a face
to lie hid in prison, and kissing, not scourging, were meeter for thee.
Aye, and so I’d tell my Lord Jeffreys himself.  I’ll not betray thee.
But get you from the town.  Taunton streets are not for you.  That bonny
face is not soon forgotten, my angel."

Captain Protheroe scowled.  His fingers itched to be at the man’s
throat, for though the warning was kindly, the tone was insolent, and
the fellow leered at the girl with his bleared eyes.  But a disturbance
was not to be risked.  With a curt nod, and a gently murmured word of
thanks from Barbara, they hurried on, leaving the belated traveller
leaning up against a wall chuckling over their hasty retreat.

But their progress was doomed, nevertheless, to meet with yet another
check that night.

They had turned into a quiet street, on the outskirts of the town, when
they were aware of three men coming towards them, carrying amongst them
a ladder. Captain Protheroe drew Barbara into the shade of a doorway,
and they waited for the party to pass.  They stopped, however, before a
small house, and laid their burden on the ground; then lighting a small
lantern they stooped over the bundle on the ladder, and busied
themselves over it for some minutes with muttered curses and
ejaculations.  There was a silence and a mystery about their proceedings
that excited the captain’s curiosity, and he craned forward eagerly to
watch them.

Presently they rose and rearing the ladder against the house, held it
there, while the leader of the three, an old man, small and hunchbacked,
clambered up and entered the half-opened casement of a chamber in the
upper story.  He disappeared for a moment into the room, then returning
to the window, proceeded to haul up the bundle by a rope to which it had
been fastened.

With a sudden quick movement Captain Protheroe put his hand across
Barbara’s eyes, that she might not watch them, for he recognised in a
moment the thing they were hauling up so eagerly, he understood too well
the meaning of that dangling shadow on the wall.  A hanged man was a
common enough sight in those days, but what meant these silent men, with
that helpless body here?

The man in the chamber hauled up the corpse, until the helpless,
drooping head was on a level with the window ledge.  He secured it
there, descended the ladder, and stepped into the middle of the road
chuckling and rubbing his hands, to see the effect of his handiwork.

His accomplices stared at him curiously.

"Well, master," growled one, "there he hangs for sure, and we’re well
paid for the job.  But what a murrain a man wants wi’ a hanged corpse
dangling outside his chamber, is more than my wits can tell."

The hunchback turned slowly and faced the speaker, and his face was as
the face of a madman.

"Harkee, my man," he said grimly.  "The wench sleeping in yonder chamber
is my niece, was my niece, for she’s none o’ mine now.  She was a devil
with her whims and tantrums, but for all that, she should have wedded my
son, for she hath a pretty fortune of her own.  But she would none of
him, calling him ’fool’ and ’dotard’ because, forsooth, he is not so
quick in his wits as some.  And he my son.  But I kept her close, and
she should have gone my way in time, when Monmouth’s army came to town,
and with him this cursed fellow.  They met, I scarce knew how, and she
drew him on with her devil’s eyes.  But I kept her close, so I deemed,
till at length I learned the fellow had been in secret night after night
to visit the girl, thus, by her chamber window.  Then we waited for him,
I and my son, and fell on him in her room.  But he worsted us, two to
one though we were, and my son a giant in strength; and he slew my son.
He slew my son, and she laughed when she saw him lying dead before her.
And he my son.  Her lover fled by the window, and I saw him no more.
After the battle I sought him high and low until I found him.  I brought
him to his trial, and saw him hanged for a rogue.  But she has heard
nought of him as yet.  Presently will we rouse her, and see how now she
greets this lover of hers."

The man told his story in a cold, even tone, and at the end broke into a
sudden savage chuckle; the light from the lantern illumined his face,
and his companions shuddered at the sheer brutality of its expression.

But the two eavesdroppers who had heard the story, horror-struck, could
endure no more, indeed, Barbara was trembling from head to foot.  With
one accord they crept from the doorway, fortunately unobserved by the
three men, who stood so intently contemplating the horrible spectacle
before them, and passed rapidly from the spot, horrified by the
experience, and ever pursued by a wild unreasoning terror lest the
sleeping girl should wake and come to the window, lest they should hear
the greeting she gave her lover’s corpse.

And so at length they left the town behind them, and reached the quiet
country beyond.

The night lay dark and silent around them.  The pure fresh wind blew on
their faces, bearing the sweet scent of the woods upon its wings; the
trees and hedges shadowed darkly above them, whispering soft answers to
the wooing breeze.  The air was full of the sweet mysterious noises of
the night, when nature murmurs, in those voices which know neither sound
nor language, yet speak so clearly to the listening heart.

The wide arch of the clear heavens stretched above them, spreading
before their gaze the infinite glories of their star-lit space, teaching
alike the infinite littleness and the infinite greatness of man; since
though he comprehend so little of what lies around him, yet hath he in
his being the breath of that spirit who "or ever the earth and the world
was made, is God from everlasting, and shalt be, world without end."

The joy of freedom coursed through their veins, a great peace enfolded
their hearts, and the Spirit of God rested upon them as they walked on
in silence, side by side, into the darkness of the night.

At length, when they had walked three miles or more, Captain Protheroe
stopped and stooping down carefully scanned his companion’s face.

"We will go no further now," was the result of his scrutiny.  "I fear me
we must dispense with a roof for to-night at least.  Can you endure a
night in the open, think you?" he queried doubtfully.

Barbara smiled, stretching her arms out towards the sky.

"Indeed I can.  Three nights in prison have wrought such effect upon me,
I could wish never to behold a roof again."

"Good! then follow me.  I know of a hiding-place that should shelter us
safely for many a day."

He turned abruptly from the road, and helping her through the bordering
hedge, struck across several rough fields, until a dark shadow of a wood
loomed before them, and in a few minutes more they were enveloped in the
blackness of its depths.

"Give me your hand," he said, drawing her nearer to him.  "The paths are
difficult to follow."

Indeed she could distinguish nothing in the intense darkness, but he
walked on unerringly, leading her along a maze of narrow paths, bordered
by thick brushwood, and a tangle of undergrowth.

"I played here as a lad," he said in explanation of his ready pilotage.
"There is no better way to learn the lie of a country than to roam it as
a boy.  I verily believe I could go every step of the way with my eyes
shut."

Presently he stopped, and turning, looked at her doubtfully.

"We should leave the path here, madame, but I fear ’tis a difficult
passage, and scarce fit for you to traverse. Think you——"

Barbara laughed.

"Fear nothing for me.  Be sure, sir, a woman can go through most things
if she ardently desire to come out at the further end."

So they turned from the path, and plunged into the tangle of brushwood.
Despite her boast, Barbara found the difficulties of the way far greater
than she had expected, for the darkness was so deep she could
distinguish little of what lay around her, and the briars and thorns
caught her skirts at every step.  Captain Protheroe went before to part
the branches for her, where it was possible, or to help her to scramble
over the tangle of bushes that barred their way.  In spite of her
fatigue the girl’s spirits had quite recovered their customary buoyancy,
and as they struggled forward, she climbing and scrambling, he pulling
her on, she shook with laughter.

At length, after ten minutes’ tedious struggle, their way was barred by
a network of branches and creepers so tightly enlaced that the barricade
was clearly not due to nature alone.  Captain Protheroe after a few
paces to the left, paused, and pushing aside a branch which yielded to
his efforts with but slight resistance, he stepped through the opening,
and their journey was at an end.

Barbara found herself in a small clearing, a sloping hollow in the
ground, enclosed by a ring of trees and a network of branches.  The
ground was thickly carpeted with moss, she felt the spring of it beneath
her feet; the faint sound of running water announced the near
neighbourhood of a spring; far overhead, through the thick interlacing
leaves she could see the stars.

"This is our camp," said Captain Protheroe, glancing round with a
proprietary air of old acquaintanceship. "’Twill be nigh twenty years
since my cousins and I first made it.  We were Oxenham’s men then, an I
remember rightly," he continued with a smile, "fighting against the
Spaniards in the Neck of Panama.  My father had read us the history, and
we built our camp according to the fashion therein described.  By the
look of it, one would say that none had been here since. The forest
stretches far, and ’tis an unfrequented place. ’Twill shelter us well
for to-night at least, and then we can lay our plans.  And now, madame,
you must rest."

He turned to one corner of the clearing, where the moss grew thick and
soft, and pulling down some branches, together with long fronds of
bracken, he built a rough bower to shelter her from the cool breeze, and
give her at least a thought of privacy.  Then he spread his cloak upon
the ground, and rolled the wide cape over a pile of leaves and grass to
form a rough pillow.

He eyed his handiwork with an air of dissatisfaction.

"’Tis a poor place," he muttered; "but I can do no more to-night."

Barbara crossed to his side; she looked up at him with a sudden smile,
but her eyes were soft and dark with unshed tears.

"For this, for a thousand kindnesses, Captain Protheroe, I must remain
forever in your debt."

She held out her hand; he stooped low before her, and pressed it to his
lips.

"Madame, I am amply rewarded."

So he answered her, and had she met the look in his eyes she had known
that his words were true.

Long after Barbara’s tired eyes had closed in sleep, Captain Protheroe
lay silent, motionless, lost in thought.

Twelve hours ago he had held rank in the royal army, rich in wealth, in
power, in all the prosperity and happiness of a favoured officer.  Now
he was an outcast from his profession, an exile from his home, a rebel
over whose head hung the penalty of death.

Yet he did not blame his fate.  For there, beside him, an outlaw as he,
helpless save for his protection, was the one woman in the world who
throughout his life had awakened the worship of his nature, and though
the star of his fortunes hung low and dim on the horizon, yet before
him, in the darkness gleamed the rising star of love.

Yes, he was amply repaid.

So these two rested peacefully in the shade of the sheltering leaves,
while behind them in Taunton, Prudence and Robert tossed sleepless, in a
consternation of wonder and doubt, and Cicely, to whom Prue had confided
the whole story, prayed desperately the night through in an agony of
newly awakened hope.



                             *CHAPTER XVII*


Barbara opened her eyes wonderingly and gazed upwards into a maze of
soft shimmering green.  She had slept long and soundly on her improvised
couch, and some moments passed ere she could collect her thoughts, and
solve the mystery of her surroundings.  But gradually the events of the
previous night took shape from the mist of dreams that clouded her
brain, and she awoke to the new day.  With a prayer of thankfulness for
her safety she sprang from her couch, and stepped out of her bower into
the wider enclosure beyond.

But there she paused, with a quick gasp of wonder and delight at the
scene which met her eyes.

She was alone in a strange, green world.  The ground was carpeted with
thick, springy moss.  The walls were of green leafy bushes, and
intertwining branches festooned with trails of creepers hanging from
tree to tree. Far overhead the giants of the forest greeted each other
in a close embrace, each tree trunk arching high to meet its neighbour,
and all veiled in the delicate shimmer of the ever-moving leaves.  Here
and there a shaft of green light pierced through the branches and lit up
to a brilliant sparkle the emerald dewdrops which lay thickly encrusted
on the moss.

"Sure it must be even thus under the sea," murmured Barbara, "except
that there, men say, is ever silence, and here is ever sound."

She paused again to hearken with wondering delight to the thousand
voices of the forest, the never ceasing whisper of the leaves, the
ripple of water, the songs of the birds, clear among them the trill of
the robin, even then beginning his winter serenade, all the mysterious
sounds heard only in the heart of woodland life.

Close at hand a spring bubbled up and trickled away in a tiny silver
stream.  Barbara plunged face and hands into the clear, cold water, and
the blood went tingling through her veins.  She hesitated a moment,
glancing round to make sure she was alone.  Then with a half defiant
toss of her head, she drew off shoes and stockings, and sitting on the
soft moss, dabbled her feet in the stream.

The fresh air of the morning blew upon her face.  She was gay with
freedom, with health, joy, sheer animal happiness.  She laughed aloud,
and flinging back her head burst into a wild song of life and love which
she had heard Rupert sing a score of times, but which she had never
until now fully understood.

But as she sang she stopped abruptly and sprang to her feet, crimsoning
with blushes, for the bushes where she sat were parted, and Captain
Protheroe stepped out and stood before her, on the other side of the
tiny stream.

"Good-morning, Mistress Barbara," he cried gaily. "Is it you indeed, or
has some nymph of the forest sought haven in our glade?"

Barbara looked down at her bare feet guiltily, and then as her glance
travelled slowly up her figure, she gave a sudden gasp of helpless
dismay.

The bottom of her skirt hung limply about her, in veritable shreds and
tatters; it was covered with green and brown stains and was torn in a
score of places. Her bodice was equally dishevelled, one sleeve had been
pulled right out of the gathers, and her dainty lawn fichu hung round
her neck in a long draggled string.

For a moment she was filled with consternation, then gradually the
ridiculous in the situation tickled her humour, and after one minute’s
pause her face dimpled into mischief and she broke into a merry laugh.

As for Captain Protheroe, he vowed to himself that never before had she
looked so lovely.  Her cheeks glowed with health and freshness, and her
eyes danced, her pretty feet and slender ankles peeped from beneath her
skirt, and her face and figure seemed infinitely attractive, a
harmonious part of the beauty around her. She was adorable, and he
longed to tell her so; aye, more, he longed to tell her of his new-born
love, to plead for her mercy, to lay his life, his worship in homage at
her feet.

But he dared not speak his thoughts, he dared not let himself be carried
away by her beauty, lest losing for a moment his self-restraint, he lose
it forever, and destroy at once his honour and the hope of her love.

So with an effort he turned his gaze aside and assumed once more his
customary manner of careless raillery.

"Ah!  Mistress Barbara," he cried gaily, again glancing at her garments
disarranged and travel-stained, "I vow ’tis too bad of me.  I knew it
was no path of roses we followed last night, but I little dreamed the
journey was so severe an one as this betokens.  It was indeed careless
of me, and yet I knew no other way.  I pray your forgiveness."

"Indeed, there is nought to forgive.  Is it not ever a path of thorns
that leads to Paradise, and methinks e’en Paradise can scarce be more
lovely than this."

He flushed with pleasure.

"You like our camp, madame!"

"’Tis perfection.  I have never seen aught so lovely. The forest is a
new world to me."

"A new world, and you the queen on’t."

"A pretty queen i’ faith, in rags and tatters.  More like a beggar-maid
methinks."

"An all beggar-maids were so, madame, one would judge King Cophetua a
man of infinite discernment, and wisest choice."

Her eyes danced in recognition of the compliment, but meeting his glance
she deemed it wiser to bring him back to earth.

"An I be queen, prithee, fair subject, give me my breakfast, for I am
hungry as a trooper."

"’Twill be a somewhat cheerless meal, I fear," he muttered
discontentedly; "I have been abroad in search of something better to
offer than the cold bacon and pasty we purloined from the inn, but I met
with little success.  Here are all my spoils."

He unfolded two large leaves filled with wild plums and berries, and
together they sat down to the meal. Barbara laughed lightly at the
extraordinary collection of viands her companion produced from his
bundle, but Captain Protheroe regarded the food scattered about on the
ground with a rueful countenance.

"’Tis poor fare indeed, Mistress Barbara.  But that foul witch,
Misfortune, has driven us forth into the wilderness, and we must needs
endure the distresses she showers on us with as bold a heart as we may."

"Fie, fie! sir," answered Barbara gaily, devouring her bread and
blackberries with infinite gusto.  "Where are your eyes?  This is no
wilderness, but a sweet enchanted isle.  Some gentle enchantress hath
led us hither, and now encloses us with a hundred magic spells safely
guarded from the malice of our foes."

"And here we shall dwell happily ever after.  Runs not the story so?
For my part I should be well content," he added softly.

Again Barbara ignored the tenderness in his voice.

"This is no pasty, neither is it mere greasy bacon that you eat," she
continued her parable calmly, "though to your eyes so it may appear.
’Tis magic food that our enchantress hath supplied.  While this water,"
she added, stooping with cupped hand to drink from the spring, "sure no
ordinary water could have so sweet a taste.  ’Tis the nectar of the
gods, and whosoever drinks it shall remain forever young."

"I’ faith, madame, you are a lesson in contentment. For myself, hard
fare is nothing, but I feared for you. I went fishing also this morning,
but with ill success, my hand has lost its cunning since boyhood.  But
you shall have trout for supper, or I will drown in the attempt."

Barbara laughed brightly.

"Tell me of your camp here when you were a boy," she commanded.

So he told her of his boyhood, becoming boy again as he talked.  Told of
his games, adventures, beliefs, of life in those golden days when the
forest had been to him a place of magic, each rock a fortress, each
rotting tree-trunk a fearsome beast of prey, each flower-clad glade a
dwelling for the fairies.  And she listened to all with a sweet
eagerness, a ready comprehension, a quick sympathy which led him to
another and yet another tale, till his whole boyhood lay open before her
like a book, and through the boy she learned to know the man, the man as
he really was beneath his veneer of careless gallantry, brave, honest,
simple, and chivalrous. For the man who looks back with love to the days
of his childhood preserves one treasure in his heart which the world may
never sully.

Thus they talked, these two, cut off from all their world.  Naturally,
openly they talked, disclosing to one another their deepest, purest
thoughts, for the spell of the forest was upon them, and for the nonce
the man and the woman met face to face, simple and unashamed The
sunlight played about them, the leaves danced and whispered, and the air
thrilled with the song of the birds.

[Illustration: "THUS THEY TALKED, THESE TWO, CUT OFF FROM ALL THEIR
WORLD"]

"And were there no women in your camp?" asked Barbara at last, smiling.

"Yes, one.  We would have appointed her our cook, our slave, as is the
manner of lads towards most maids of their age.  But not she!  How that
chit of a maiden ruled us, and how presently we worshipped her!  She
would sit here, our queen, enthroned and crowned, while we must scour
the forest for fruit and flowers, rare gifts for her Majesty.  We must
wait upon her pleasure, fight for her favours, be in all things her
slaves.  Young as she was, she knew her power well, she tyrannised over
us even then, and we—we loved her for it with all our hearts."

His voice was soft and tender, and a shadow fell on Barbara’s heart.

"Where is she now?" she asked, with eager, too eager, Interest.

Again he hesitated, and answered in a cold, slightly restrained voice:

"She hath been, for some years, at the court of his Majesty, King
Louis."

Then there fell a silence between them, but no longer the silence of
sympathy, for he was lost in recollection, and she in wondering doubt.

Presently he rose abruptly to his feet.

"I think, Mistress Barbara, ’twere well I should go and reconnoitre.  I
will soon return; but I would fain see, if possible, what our enemies
are about.  Are you afraid to stay here alone?"

"Afraid?" she asked in astonishment, "why, what should harm me?"

"Yes, ’twas a foolish question to ask you, Mistress Barbara, I might
have known the answer," he replied admiringly.

He paused a moment, smiling down at her, turned with a nod, and vanished
into the wood.

For some time after his departure Barbara lay still, nestling in the
luxurious couch of moss, wrapt in dreams.  But the fresh joy of the
morning had passed, and her dreams grew less bright.

She remembered now for the first time the helplessness of her position;
an outcast, with no shelter save such as Captain Protheroe might
provide, no escape save through his contrivance, no protection save his
arm; she was utterly dependent upon him.

And then she remembered, with a sudden hot rush of blood to her cheeks,
that it was she herself who had brought this about.

For he had not offered to take her with him, rather had he advised her
to seek out the Lanes and take shelter with them; but she in her
heedlessness had refused his advice, had forced her company upon him.
And he could not in courtesy refuse, but was bound by his honour to
undertake the task, to provide for her, and protect her, even at the
risk of his life.

No, she had thrust herself, unwelcome, upon him, and had now no hope
save in him.

So she mused, growing each moment more ashamed, more angry, her pride
stinging her afresh at each recollection of his kindness and her
dependence on it.

For this dependence, which might once perchance have been a sweet
thought to her, was now turned to gall and bitterness by the shadow of
another, the aforetime queen of the forest, whose presence seemed to her
to haunt the little glade, the girl who had claimed his homage, whom he
had loved with all his heart.

For if he loved the girl of whom he spoke so tenderly, then she,
Barbara, could be nothing to him, save that perchance her beauty
gratified his eyes; her presence was but an aggravation of his
distresses, her helplessness a burden, unwelcome as unsought.

Her first impulse, nay, her firm intention was to flee from him at once,
relieve him from his forced task, and win or lose her safety for
herself.  Thus her pride urged her to act.

But more gentle thoughts held sway.  For Barbara was practical, and
above all things, just.  She saw clearly that to leave him now, in
secret, would but add to his troubles, since he would without doubt seek
her again, nor rest until he found her, fearing for her safety.
Further, to urge him to leave her were useless; such a man as he did not
lightly relinquish a task he had once taken in hand.

No, clearly she could not escape from the position in which she had
thrust herself, her punishment must be to remain with him, dependent on
his care.  Nor must she accept his kindness grudgingly, but with a free
heart, simply, confidently, else her conduct were indeed unjust.  For
since she had imposed the task upon him, she must not make it bitter by
any act of hers.

So she resolved, though it hurt her pride sorely to accept his favours,
deeming that she had nought to give in turn.  For the Winslows were ever
proud folk, giving gift for gift, blow for blow, in fair exchange, and
Barbara had by no means consented to give nought and receive all at the
hands of any man, save that her wonderful sense of fairness (no such
common attribute of her sex), forced her to give his feelings the
consideration she felt was but his due.

But for that other woman!  The woman who had once sat there, enthroned,
accepting his homage, perchance in the very spot where new she lay.  She
rose abruptly and walked to the far side of the hollow, where she seated
herself stiffly on a fallen tree, and glanced distastefully at the soft
bank of moss that had lately formed her couch.

Presently she grew restless, and so to escape from the folly of her
thoughts, she resolved to make a short voyage of exploration on her own
account.

She had no difficulty in discovering the opening in the bushes which
enclosed the hollow, and passing through she found herself on a narrow
green path leading through the forest.  The brambles crept close to her
side, and at times even stretched their long arms across her path, but
in the clear light of day she had no great difficulty in making her way
along a road which in the darkness of the previous night had appeared
fraught with almost insuperable difficulty.

She tripped along at a fair pace beneath the towering branches, pausing
ever and anon to gaze with wondering delight at some newly opening scene
of woodland beauty.

Now she would pass a stretch of bracken, higher than her head, through
which the sunlight streamed in a blaze of emerald fire.  Anon she came
to pause in a grove of beeches, gazing up in awe at the giant branches
above her, curving in graceful arches far above her head; or she stooped
in delight over some gnarled old tree-stump, alive with feathery ferns
and delicately coloured lichens; and once she came to a wide, green bank
o’ercovered quite with delicate cobwebs, dew-flecked, shimmering like
silken gauze, beneath which swayed the tender lily-plants, like the
slender forms of eastern beauties, dancing in their jewelled veils.

It was a world of magic delight, and as she wandered on, she fell again
beneath the forest spell, and forgot her cares in the sheer joy of
beauty.  For the forest has a magic charm for all who will yield to its
influence.  The song of the sea is restlessness; the teaching of the
hills is aspiration, but the spell of the forest is peace.

But suddenly she stopped, with a quick indrawing of the breath, for
close beside her, separated only by a leafy screen, she heard a deep,
shuddering sigh.

Her first impulse was to flee at once along the road she had come, back
to the safe shelter of the hollow. But her curiosity stayed her, and she
waited, hand on heart, for what should follow.

Again came the groan, and this time she could distinguish some muttered
words.

"My God!  I will endure no more.  It must end now."

Barbara had been no true woman had she turned back now.  But it was
perhaps as much pity as curiosity that prompted her to push gently aside
the branches, and peer through them at the speaker of these despairing
words.

Before her, on a fallen tree sat the dismallest figure of a man she had
ever seen.  Pale, emaciated, with haggard face half concealed by a
tangle of matted hair, and clad in that most melancholy of
apparels—soiled and tattered finery.  His right arm hung limply at his
side, a pistol in the hand.  His head was bowed upon his breast, but
even as Barbara looked, he raised it, and she marked his desperate
glance, his eyes hardened in despair.

As she looked upon his face the beauty of the forest vanished, it showed
but as a drear wilderness of thorn and bramble, a fit setting to the
desperate figure of the man before her; even so does the sight of a
drowned corpse rob the sea of all its glory.

The man raised his face for a minute to the heavens, as though he would
fling a look of defiance at the pitiless gods; then slowly lifted the
pistol in his hand and turned the muzzle towards his temple, curling his
finger round the trigger.

Without thought of aught save that the deed must be prevented, Barbara
did not pause to consider her best course of action; she sprang through
the bushes and confronted the sufferer, holding out her hands
entreatingly towards him, and, with a sudden flash of instinct, crying
in half-pleading, half-commanding tones:

"Hold, sir, hold.  I require your protection."

The man sprang to his feet, and stood for a moment staring in amazement
at this unexpected apparition. Then he fell on his knees before her, his
eyes fixed adoringly upon her eager face.

"Barbara," he whispered, "Barbara!  You!  You!"

It was the girl’s turn to be astonished.  She drew back a step, and
regarded the speaker with a frown of bewilderment.

"Do you not know me, Barbara?" he whispered again. "You can’t have
forgotten me, Ralph Trevellyan."

"Ralph!" she cried in amazement.  "Is it possible?"  It was indeed
difficult to recognise in this haggard figure the gay debonair youth she
had known in former days, her brother’s boon companion, and a favourite
playmate of her childhood.

"Ralph Trevellyan!" she repeated again doubtfully.

Then glancing down quickly at the pistol still in his hand, she cried
reproachfully, "Oh, Ralph!"

He understood her meaning, and flushed hotly.

"And why not, Barbara?" he questioned defiantly. "What else remained to
do?  I am sick of this life, and here in this cursed forest is neither
food nor shelter. It had to be death one way or another, better thus
than on the scaffold."

"But not now, Ralph," she pleaded; "surely not now."

He took her hand and kissed it.

"Not now, Barbara, if you have need of me."

"Oh! indeed I have great need," she answered quickly. "For I am a
fugitive even as thou, a rebel tried and condemned, and but yesterday
escaped from Taunton gaol."

His face gleamed with anger.

"What!  Did they dare!  The fiends!  But tell me how it befell,
Barbara."

"No, I will have your story first.  Tell me——  But stay, I had forgot.
You are worn and hungry.  Come. I know where there is food in plenty.
Come!"

So she led him back to the hollow, and on the way he told her his story.
How he had been left for dead on the field of Sedgemoor, but was saved
by some pitiful peasants, who hid him in their cottage and nursed him
back to life.  But a few days since, while his strength was still but
half-restored, a raid was made upon his hiding-place, he having been
betrayed, and he had but just escaped to the wood in safety.  There he
had lurked for three days, feeding upon berries and such wild fruits as
he could find, until at last, his strength well-nigh spent, and his
spirit hopeless, he had resolved to give up the struggle and end his
life.

As he finished his story, to which the girl listened with eager
sympathy, they reached the enclosure, and parting the bushes, Barbara
led him proudly into the hollow.

"Here is our camp, Ralph, is it not a Paradise?  And now sit, and I will
fetch you food."

"But tell me, Barbara," he asked suddenly.  "You are not alone here.
Surely you cannot have wandered all night alone in this wilderness."

Now Barbara hesitated, wondering how best to explain the apparent
inconsistency of her conduct in having declared herself in urgent need
of his protection, when she was provided with a most capable protector
already.  And while she paused, choosing her words, Captain Protheroe
himself suddenly appeared at the entrance and stopped in wonder, gazing
questioningly at the intruder.

Then a strange thing happened.  Before Barbara could explain matters to
either of her companions, Ralph turned, and saw the cause of her sudden
silence. He stared wildly at the captain for one moment, then springing
to his feet, he drew his sword, and rushed full pace to throw himself
upon the intruder.

Captain Protheroe was unarmed, and the attack was utterly unexpected,
but he was a man of ever ready wit, quick to meet all turns and shifts
of fortune, and was accordingly in no wise overthrown by the onslaught.
He stepped back a pace, into the shelter of the bushes, and pulling down
a large leafy branch, he entrenched himself behind it, as behind a
shield, and peered cautiously through the twigs at his opponent.

As for Ralph, he stopped dead for a moment in absolute amazement at this
manoeuvre, then with a new rush of anger at what he deemed the cowardice
of the fellow, he flew fiercely to the attack, slashing aside the
leaves, and thrusting through the branches in a fury of rage.  But
Captain Protheroe’s spirits rose to the fight, and he on his part did
good work with his branch, swinging it from side to side, warding off
the blows of his opponent, and occasionally getting in a thrust on his
own account with the leafy mass, at his enemy’s face.

The twigs snapped, the branches cracked, the leaves flew round them in a
wild shower at the sweeping strokes of Ralph’s sword.  Sure never before
was such a mad confusion.

Barbara stood for some minutes transfixed with astonishment at the
strange turn of events, then with a quick cry she rushed to Ralph’s
side, and seized his arm firmly with both hands.

"Patience, patience," she cried.  "Ralph, this is my good friend,
Captain Protheroe, through whose help I have escaped from prison."

The two men eyed one another angrily for a moment, then Captain
Protheroe cautiously lowered his branches, and Ralph sheathed his sword.

"Your pardon, Barbara," muttered the latter; "I did not recognise the
gentleman as one of your friends.  I had thought from his dress——"

"Captain Protheroe was indeed an officer of the royal army.  But he hath
been imprisoned——  You have never told me wherefore you were
imprisoned," she interrupted suddenly, turning to the captain.

He turned to her in amazement.

"Why, madame, do you not know?"

"I!" she cried.  "What mean you?  Is it possible you were condemned for
the affair at Durford!  Indeed I knew nought of it!  I am sorry—I——"

He turned the subject quickly.

"Then this gentleman, madame——?" he queried doubtfully.

"This is Sir Ralph Trevellyan; an old, a very dear friend of
Rupert’s—and of mine.  He was wounded at Sedgemoor, and is now a
fugitive as we are.  He hath agreed to join our company, and we will all
three travel together."

Captain Protheroe bowed stiffly, and glanced jealously at the newcomer.

"I am sorry, madame," he muttered sulkily.  "You do not consider my
protection sufficient."

"Hoots!" exclaimed Barbara crossly.  "Two are ever better than one."

"Possibly.  I doubt not this gentleman is also of that opinion," he
answered with a slight sneer.

But here Ralph broke in hotly.

"If this gentleman like not my company, Barbara, I will right willingly
rid myself of his."

"Certainly not!" cried Barbara, thoroughly exasperated, fearful also
lest, removed from her influence, Ralph might again attempt his life.
"If Captain Protheroe like not my friends, he may e’en journey alone."

Captain Protheroe looked up in astonishment.

"Do you desire me to leave you, madame?" he demanded coldly.

"As you please.  An you care to do so, of a certainty I would not
prevent you," she answered angrily, but her voice faltered.  Here was
the opportunity she had told herself she desired, the opportunity to
free him from her dependence.  But now her pride wavered, and despite
her angry words, she prayed he might not go.

But he also had pride, pride now stung by jealousy. Without a word he
turned on his heel, and strode from the glade.

Barbara stared after his retreating figure in dismay, but she could not
call him back.  She turned fiercely upon Sir Ralph.

"And pray what right had you, Ralph, to quarrel with Captain Protheroe?"
she cried in a fury.

"Tut!  Barbara," he answered coaxingly.  "We shall do better without
him.  I doubt not the fellow is but a spy."

"He is no spy," she answered, stamping her foot in her rage.  "He is a
most brave, a most chivalrous gentleman.  And—and I would to Heaven he
had not left me."

She turned angrily away from her astonished companion—and found herself
face to face with the captain himself.

The gloom had vanished from his face, and he looked down at her with a
smile in his eyes.

"I pray you pardon me, Mistress Barbara," he began; "I did not willingly
play the eavesdropper.  I returned to fetch my cloak.  But now——" he
paused, and looked down at her whimsically.  "Now, may I stay?"

In vain Barbara endeavoured to preserve her anger, gazing back haughtily
into his laughing eyes; she was too delighted to see him again, and
presently her lips twitched, and the dimple appeared.

"You—you are very troublesome," she answered, turning away.

Being a wise man and well versed in the ways of women Captain Protheroe
sought for no more definite expression of relenting, but seated himself
cheerfully on a fallen tree, and awaited her pleasure.

Presently Barbara continued, as though nothing had occurred.

"Come, you two must be friends.  Give Captain Protheroe your hand,
Ralph, and crave pardon for your rough welcome."

She accompanied the words with a glance in the direction of the
discomfited Ralph, and he dared not refuse, but he complied with the
request in a somewhat sulky fashion.

"Believe me, sir," he said, with the slightest curl of his lips, "I
deeply regret that in my eagerness to protect this lady, I did not
observe that you have been—er—deprived of your sword."

Captain Protheroe flushed at the implied insult, but accepted the
extended hand.

Barbara hastily continued:

"That is well," she said cheerfully, affecting to ignore the rising
quarrel.  "Now will we be all friends together.  And now, Captain
Protheroe, the result of your expedition?"

"I fear I have but little to tell.  One patrol indeed passed on the road
to the south, but for the rest the country looks quiet enough.  Yet we
can scarce hope to pass another day here in safety; if you are ready we
should move on to-night."

"Whither, then?"

"Aye, that is the question.  We—" then interrupting himself with a
bitter laugh—"I had forgot, ’tis we no longer,—they, the King’s troops,
are guarding the coast from Watchet to Parret mouth, since so many have
escaped thence; there is small hope to the north. We might turn south,
and lie hid among the Blackdown Hills, yet there is little to be gained
by that; ’twill be some months ere the country be quiet, and you cannot
lie all that time in the open.  My plan, an it meet your pleasure, is to
strike eastward to-night, skirt Bridgewater, and so make for Wells.
There lives in that city an old woman who was my foster-nurse.  She’s a
faithful soul, and would do aught for me, I verily believe. I could
bestow you safely enow with her, indeed ’tis like enough the three of us
could lie hid there a day or so, until we hear of some means of escape
to Holland. There you can rejoin your brother, and we can take service
with Brunswick."

"But how to reach Wells?" queried Barbara.

"We must journey by dark, and lie hid in the day-time in whatsoever
corner it pleases fate to lead us to. We must press on rapidly, and
should be there in three marches at most.  I confess to the risk, but
know no better plan.  What say you?"

"I know nought of the matter," answered Barbara somewhat helplessly.
"Do what you think wisest."

"To Wells be it then.  I know the disposition of our—the troops, and the
search is like to be less stringent there than elsewhere."

"We will leave the matter in your hands," continued Barbara.  "But I
must go to Durford before we start for Holland, if you please."

"To Durford, madame!  Impossible!  ’Tis the one place where you would be
in greatest danger.  What in Heaven’s name would you at Durford?"

"Why, marry, collect my gowns of course.  Do you dream I would leave
them behind for any trollop to flaunt her person in them?  My French
silk, and the blue taffeta, and—oh! my new gold brocade.  I cannot go
away and leave my new gold brocade.  I must have it; ’tis a matter of
absolute necessity."

"But it is impossible," he cried desperately.

"Yet I can’t go to Holland in these tatters," she persisted in
exasperation.

"Indeed, madame, I see not how the effect could be improved," he
answered, smiling at her admiringly.  "But an it be indeed a matter of
absolute necessity, tho’ it seemeth at present an utter impossibility, I
will bear the matter in mind when I lay my plans."

"That is kind," answered Barbara, with an approving smile.

Then she turned to Ralph with a sudden exclamation of distress.

"Oh! you poor boy," she exclaimed, "I had forgotten you entirely; you
must be famished.  See, here is our store.  Eat what you will, and then
rest; you must be wearied out with fatigue."

There was a tenderness in her voice and actions as she hovered over her
old playmate seeing to his wants, a tenderness that sounded bitterly in
the ears of Captain Protheroe.  It was after all only the ’mother’
feeling, natural in all women towards one whom they instinctively know
to be weaker than themselves, but it was capable of a very different
interpretation, and small blame to her companions did they thus
interpret it, the one with a quick gladness, the other with a sudden
pang.

When Ralph’s wants had been supplied, and he had at last stretched
himself out to sleep, Barbara came slowly and seated herself by Captain
Protheroe’s side.

"Captain Protheroe," she began hesitatingly, "were you indeed imprisoned
solely on account of what you did for Rupert?"

"Nay, madame," he assured her quickly; "that was but the pretext I was
imprisoned on account of an old grudge."

"Yet had there not been that pretext," she began.

"They had invented another, madame."

"But none save I knew of it.  How could they hear it?" she questioned
wonderingly.

"That, Mistress Barbara, is what I have been wondering ever since my
arrest."

She looked at him curiously.

"And did you ever, in the midst of your wondering, suspect me, Captain
Protheroe?"

He dropped his eyes before her clear glance.

"I am ashamed to confess that I did."

"That was unjust," she exclaimed quickly.  "Despite all testimony, I
never believed that you had betrayed me."

"I betray you!" he cried indignantly.  "Why, how could you dream it,
madame?"

"And how should you then deem it possible in me?"

"Oh; that was different."

"I do not see it," she answered with a smile.  "But you know now that I
am no traitor?"

"My faith upon it, Mistress Barbara," he cried earnestly.  "I knew it
the instant I looked again upon your face."

"And yet——" she mused, "’tis passing strange. It would seem we have a
mutual enemy.  I would I knew who had betrayed us."

"And I," he answered grimly.

"You would be revenged?" she questioned curiously.

"There should be a reckoning, Mistress Barbara."

"You believed me a traitor when we were together in prison?"

"I deemed it possible.  Consider, Mistress Barbara, I knew no other who
could have——"

"And yet, believing that, you saved me?"

"And yet, I saved you," he answered, smiling.

"Was that then your revenge?"

"Revenge!  On you!  Ah!  Mistress Barbara, that were indeed different.
Is not my life yours to do with as you wish?"

"The forest is no place for compliment, sir," she rebuked.  "This pure
air puts such empty words to shame."

"I know it, madame," he answered quietly.  "’Twas indeed for that reason
I dared to speak the words, trusting that you would know them to be
true."

She had no answer to his words.  Her heart trembled with gladness, but
she despised herself for the weakness. "His life was hers."  Aye, but
might not a man speak so, look so, a hundred times, and mean no more
than empty courtesy?  And in her heart she cursed this cruel art of
compliment, the meaningless gallantry towards her sex which permits a
man to stale his homage at every maiden’s feet, and forbids a woman to
place credence in aught a man may say, lest she shame herself by seeming
to take that which was never offered.

For Barbara had met too many such light gallants, men who, in all
innocence doubtless, yet with deep cruelty, juggle with maiden’s hearts
as lightly as they throw a main; and she had already learned to don her
armour, and enchain her free heart in the heavy fetters of her pride.

So she answered him nothing, wotting not what to say. And he, fearing to
displease her, spoke no further.

Silence hung about them, the heavy stillness of the noonday hour
accentuated by the drowsy hum of insects.

Presently Captain Protheroe glanced up at the sun shining high above
their heads, and looked across at Barbara with a smile.

"Noon, Mistress Barbara," he said in a meaning tone.

She understood instantly the drift of the allusion, and shuddered
fearfully.

"Ah! we are not yet far enough from Taunton," she cried anxiously.

"On the contrary, we should rejoice that we are already so far.  Tho’ I
suppose," he added with a sudden smile, "had we waited, in a few minutes
from this hour I for one should have journeyed much further."

"Indeed we should be greatly thankful," continued Barbara seriously.
"For here we are, free and"—glancing at the loveliness around her—"one
would almost say in Paradise.  Why only last night I bade you farewell,
and——"

She stopped abruptly, their eyes met, and her face crimsoned with
blushes; for as she spoke the words, she remembered, on a sudden, the
manner of that farewell.

He understood the cause of her confusion and pitied it.  With a sudden
impulsive movement he leaned forward and laid his hand upon her knee.

"Nay, Mistress Barbara," he began hurriedly.  "I beg of you not to be so
distressed about so small an act of charity.  The events of yesterday
are as a bad dream; we will look upon all we said and did as the acts of
delirium."

To his surprise Barbara sprang to her feet, her face crimson, her breast
heaving with anger.

"Indeed, Captain Protheroe," she answered in the coldest tones, "you
need have no fear I should otherwise have understood your words.  The
whole affair was but a jest."

She strode haughtily past him and disappeared into her bower.

Captain Protheroe looked after her with a long, low whistle of
astonishment and dismay.  Then he shook his head solemnly and drew out
his pipe.

"The longer a man lives," he remarked to that trusty confidant, "the
more surely he learns that the only safe method of dealing with women is
to preserve an absolute silence.  Thus only may he chance to escape
offence, for they can interpret it as they will."



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*


Not until evening did Barbara emerge from her retirement.  She found Sir
Ralph seated by the spring, mightily refreshed with his sleep, but
gazing somewhat gloomily at his surroundings.

He greeted her appearance, however, enthusiastically.

"Ah!  Barbara, that is well," he cried joyously. "Methought you had
vanished entirely.  Come, sit here and talk.  I have a thousand things
to say to thee, now we are alone.  This is like old times again, is it
not?"

Barbara assented absently.  She was wondering whither Captain Protheroe
had vanished.  She paid small heed to the look of admiration in her
companion’s eyes.

"You haven’t forgotten the old days, have you, Barbara?" he questioned,
with a suspicion of tenderness in his voice.

"Of course not," she answered gaily.  "My memory is scarce so short.
Why ’tis but five years since you were with us."

"And I have thought on you every day since we parted, Barbara," he
continued softly.

Barbara started, there was no doubt as to the tenderness of the tone.
She was on her guard.

"Indeed, a most profitless proceeding," she answered sharply.

There was a pause during which Ralph feasted his eyes upon his
companion’s face.  Then he continued in a meditative voice.

"Do you remember, Barbara, how Rupert and I were wont to play we were
knights tilting for our lady’s favour?  You were ever my mistress then."

"You had no choice," she answered laughing.  "Rupert took all others
unto himself."

"Yet had you still been mine, Barbara, were there a thousand others, you
alone.  I wore your favour, and vowed to serve thee all my days.  You
have not forgotten that, Barbara?  The day I took my vow?"

"Alack-a-day," murmured Barbara to herself. "Here now is Ralph gone
crazy.  Ah, me! what shall I do?  And ’tis five years since we met.  Can
a man indeed remain so faithful?"

She looked at him doubtfully, but the look in his eyes left no room for
doubt.  Then she grew angry at the folly and the wilfulness of man, who
seeks ever for love where it may not be found.  Yet her anger was
slight, seeing no woman is ever angry at love, however unsought, and she
pitied him and liked him the more for his love.

So she answered lightly, striving to drive him from his course.

"We played many games in those days, Ralph, I cannot mind them all."

But he leaned across and laid his hand upon hers. "’Twas not merely a
game to me, Barbara, surely you know that?  You knew that when we
parted, Barbara."

Then springing to his feet, he burst out eagerly: "Oh!  Barbara, I swear
I have thought on you each day these five long years.  And now to find
you again! You were lovely as a child, and I loved you.  You are ten
times more lovely now; why may I not love you still? And loving you, why
may I not tell you so, as in the old days."

"Because—because—Oh! ’tis folly.  We were but children then, and——"

"Then let us be children again, Bab," he answered softly.  "See, the
forest has brought us together again, and——"

But Barbara sprang to her feet, too angry with herself and shamed for
having conjured up, in former days, this love which she could not still,
and womanlike, angry with him for persisting in a love which pained her.
For even the best of women look upon the heart of man as an unbreakable
toy.  They tread upon it unthinkingly.

"Indeed the forest has done nothing of the sort," she retorted angrily.
"Do not be so foolish, Ralph, or I will talk with you no more.  ’Tis
unfair to tease me with matters that are past and done with."

He looked at her gravely.

"I am not foolish, Bab, and ’tis not past and done with yet," he
answered stubbornly.

"Then, ’tis high time it was.  Look you, Ralph, I am glad you are here,
’tis good to see you again, but an you pester me with such talk, I
shall—I shall——  I won’t have it, Ralph; ’tis unfair."

He looked at her doubtfully, not knowing what to make of her anger.
Then he submitted with a quietness that surprised her.  Yet he deemed
his cause not hopeless, only unripe.

"I am sorry I angered you, Barbara," he answered quietly.  "We will talk
no more on the matter.  Yet, perchance I seemed somewhat sudden.  But I
have always longed for you, Barbara, and when you came to me suddenly,
in the wood, ’twas as tho’ Paradise had opened to me again."

Barbara answered nothing.  She had seated herself again by the stream
and was now plucking the grass and dropping it bit by bit into the
rippling water, pondering the while why love may not beget love, and
blaming herself for her ungracious acceptance of a constancy of homage a
woman should be proud to win.

Presently Ralph sat down again by her side, and eyeing her for a minute
doubtfully, he began with some hesitation:

"Barbara!"

"Well?"

"Who is this fellow?"

"What fellow, pray?"

"Why, this Protheroe.  Where did you meet with him, eh!"

"I—I knew him first at Durford.  He was quartered there with some
troops, and rendered us some courtesy."

"Hum!  I like him not."

"’Tis a pity," she answered drily.

"No," he continued gravely; "and I like not that you should be wandering
thus in his company.  Why not send him away now, Barbara?"

"Certainly not."

"But wherefore not?" he urged.

"Because I do not choose," she answered tartly.  "Besides ’twould be
foul ingratitude.  He saved me from prison."

"That is no reason why you should burden him with your protection now I
am here.  Indeed, Barbara, ’twere wiser to—to thank him, and leave him
now."

"I will not.  ’Twere most ungracious.  And, prithee, how should we fare
without him?"

"Well enow, I warrant.  See here, Barbara, he may be honourable enow——"

"He is."

"Yes, but he is not one of us.  He is but a soldier of fortune, and I
like not that you should have to do with such an one.  ’Twas vastly
unseemly that you and he should be trapesing the country alone together,
and I only hope no harm comes o’t."

"And ’tis vastly impertinent of you, Ralph Trevellyan, to suppose that I
cannot guard my honour and my own good name," she broke out hotly; for
the suggestion in his words startled her, and stung her to the quick.
"How dare you speak thus?  Upon my word, Ralph, you may be an old
friend, but, certes, you presume on the fact."

"Good Heavens!  Barbara.  What is the matter?  I only suggested——"

"Then do not do so again.  Captain Protheroe is a most honourable
gentleman.  ’Tis base of you to distrust him."

"Well!  Don’t be angry, Barbara," he pleaded quickly.  "You know in
Rupert’s absence——"

"You put yourself in Rupert’s place, eh?  It suits you ill.  Rupert hath
both greater knowledge of me, and greater trust in me than thou hast, it
would appear."

"Now, Barbara, dear——  _Damnation!_"

He dropped her hand and turned aside angrily, for a rustling of leaves
and crackling of twigs announced the return of the third member of the
party.

Barbara greeted him brightly; she was relieved at his return.

"Whither have you wandered, sir?  You have been absent for hours."

"I have been fishing, madame; behold my success."

He crossed to her side, and with an air of deep pride laid before her
three tiny trout.

"Is that all?" she asked doubtfully, fearing lest a smile might hurt his
feelings.

"All!" he cried indignantly.  "Why, what would you more?  There is one
apiece."

"Assuredly, but——" then she noted the twinkle in his eyes and burst into
a merry laugh.

"Indeed, sir; you have kept your promise nobly.  Yet I think we must
thank the fates that we are not entirely dependent for our supper upon
your skill."

"Ingratitude, thy name is woman!  Here have I lain, arm deep in water,
for three mortal hours, to catch these—er—tempting morsels, and all I
meet with is contempt.  Never again, Mistress Barbara."

"And have you not even the story of some monster who hath escaped you,
to comfort your heart?" she queried solemnly.  "I believe Rupert ever
derived much solace from such illusions when he could produce no more
substantial triumph."

"Alas, madame, I fear illusions are but little to my taste.  But since
you scorn my offerings, we had best make as good a meal as we can of the
somewhat stale viands which remain to us, and then if you are rested, we
ought to make a move."

So they supped, and bidding farewell to the hollow, presently set out on
their tramp.

Their way led for some time through the wood, and when they finally
emerged in the open country the night had already fallen.

But Captain Protheroe knew the country well, he led them unerringly
through meadows and along lonely and deserted bye-lanes, never pausing
to doubt his path.

They were, in truth, an ill-assorted party, these three, so strangely
thrown together by Fortune, to tramp the night through.  For the two men
were divided by every difference of life, rank, opinion, and character;
they were followers of different leaders, supporters of widely opposed
causes, and but two months before they had been adversaries in one of
the bloodiest battles of their time.  And to this was yet added that
fatal gulf twixt man and man, which even a lifelong friendship can
scarce hope to bridge across—love for the same woman.

By all tokens they should have hated each other, and assuredly they did.

And Barbara?  She had in hand a task which called for all the gentleness
and tact of her nature.  For with her lay the task of keeping these two
at least in outward friendship, seeing from the one she could not, from
the other she would not part.  And yet, with neither, was her heart at
ease.  She could not rebuff Ralph, lest he in despair be again driven to
desperate ends; moreover, the affection of a lifelong friendship, the
gratitude for a constant love, above all, the loneliness of her
position, forbade her be ungracious to one who loved so well.  Yet even
while she showed him kindness, her heart reproached her, knowing she was
but leading him to hope for more.  For ’tis ever so with women, their
tenderness towards all misery leading them to be kind when they should
be cruel, far more often than cruel when they should be kind.

’Twixt Captain Protheroe and herself, checking the free flow of her
spirit, lay the ever-widening barrier of her pride.  For when she
discerned the tenderness in his voice, or worship in his eyes, while her
heart leaped towards him in the sweet simplicity of her love, her pride
cried to her to beware, telling her that it was nought but pity for her
weakness.  The words of Ralph had done their part, bringing, like the
words of the serpent, evil to the breast of Eve.  For an it were in
truth so unseemly, this wandering with him alone which before had seemed
to her so sweet, so natural, what then would men say of that embrace in
the prison, given, indeed, in all simplicity, yet given unsought?  Nay,
but what mattered it what men said? what would he think?  Would he think
her light o’ love?  Her heart burned at the thought.  So she mused ever,
growing morbid in her weariness, with the strain of those last fearful
days.  So she mused, scorning him in a fierce defiance lest perchance he
deem her simple, shrinking from him in a fierce shame, lest he deem her
unashamed.

Thus her troubled thoughts strove within her brain, but to all outward
seeming she was as before, gay, gracious, natural as a child.

Only in her terror lest she seem to ask for love, she devoted herself
more and more to Sir Ralph, whose love was assured, chatting with him of
days gone by, laughing over the remembrance of childish mischiefs.

And for a time Captain Protheroe submitted to be set aside, striding on
ahead in gloomy silence, thinking on the journey of the previous night,
and cursing the Fates for sending them this interloper to part their
company.

But after a while his heart accused him of cowardice, thus to stand
aside and leave to a mere foolish boy, so he deemed their guest, the
winning of a treasure that he yearned to make his own.

Truly he had not over-many pleasant recollections to recall to her mind,
yet one he had sweet to him, since the knowledge of it lay between their
two hearts alone. So suddenly, as they walked, he fell back a pace or
two, and in a pause turned to her with the question:

"Where learned you the art of fence, Mistress Barbara?"

She started and blushed.  Then answered with a spice of mischief:

"My master is beside me.  Ralph initiated me in the art, and hath even
greater skill than I, but we cannot all be experts," with a saucy
glance.  "Of late years I have practised mostly with Rupert."

He saw the mischief in her face, but forgave it freely.

"Methought I recognised a trick or two of Jules Berin when we crossed
blades.  Has your brother studied with him?"

"No, but of his pupil.  What know you of Jules Berin?" she asked
quickly, a note of suspicion in her voice.

He laughed, and answered unheeding:

"Faith, I have been often to Paris, and we always have a bout together.
For a soldier picks up many tricks in his wanderings, and, indeed, I
have studied the art both in France, Italy, and the Low Countries. ’Tis
one of the finest pleasures in the world"—he continued with
enthusiasm—"to be pitted against a skilled adversary, straining every
effort of wrist, eye and nerve."

There was a moment’s silence.  Then Barbara demanded quietly:

"Then where learned you the trick of disarming yourself, sir?"

He started.

"Madame?"

"Was it a trick or no?  I had not deemed it so before, yet now I fear——
Confess, sir."

He laughed softly.  "Alas, madame, you have entrapped me.  I must
confess to the trick.  I learned it then, madame, when I learned many
other matters ’twould scarce interest you to hear of."

Barbara sighed and smiled.

"See how we poor women may be deceived by our own vanity.  For ever
since our meeting I have deemed myself a most excellent swordswoman, and
gloried in my skill."

"But so indeed you are," he protested eagerly.  "And when we have the
opportunity, I will teach you passes that perchance none save I and half
a dozen others understand."

But here Barbara must turn again to Ralph, who was listening jealously
to the conversation which he could in no wise comprehend.  Skilfully she
drew him on to talk, and presently the two men were engaged in a deep
discussion of their favourite pastime, waxing for the nonce almost
friendly over their eager comparison of rival styles of fence.

So they talked, merrily enough, well-nigh forgetting they were fugitives
in fear of their lives.  For brave hearts do not brood on distresses,
but rather despise them, defying the oppressions of crabbed Fortune, and
reaping gladness even from the sorrows she has sown.

They walked the night through, halting at times to rest, jet for the
most part pushing on as rapidly as possible, that their wanderings might
be the sooner ended.  Many a time, when the night had grown old, and the
silence of weariness had fallen upon them, did Captain Protheroe glance
anxiously at the girl at his side, for he knew nothing of the powers of
a woman, and doubted whether he were not pushing her strength too far.
But she answered him ever with a bright smile and quickened pace, though
her limbs ached and her body was heavy with fatigue.  For she would in
no wise endure to be a drag upon his purpose, and he, marvelling at her
endurance, let her be.  Yet he was very tender towards her, wrapping her
in his cloak whenever they halted for a rest, fetching her fresh water
to drink, doing all in his power to ease her journey; and all without
question or explanation, but with a gentle, quiet courtesy that softened
even her pride, and led her to submit to his ministrations with a sweet
gladness.

Onward they journeyed, until with the first grey tinge of morning light
they found themselves upon a wide moor, intersected by deep ditches,
stretching wild and drear before them in the cold light of the dawning.
Here and there on the wide expanse loomed dark and shadowy the outline
of some village, the clustering houses pressing round the sheltering
tower of the church.  Here and there the light gleamed coldly on the
dead waters of some still dank morass; it was a scene well suited to the
corpse-like grey of dawn, a scene of utter desolation.

The two men glanced quickly at one another as the growing light revealed
each minute more distinctly their surroundings.

Then with one accord they turned to Barbara.

She was gazing about her in astonishment.

"What place is this?" she questioned.  "’Tis like a field of the dead."

"And so it is, Barbara," answered Ralph quietly. "This is Sedgemoor."

She shuddered fearfully.

"Truly a scene well fitted to the death of such a cause," she muttered.
"One would call it the haunt of devils.  Why did you bring me here?"

Captain Protheroe shrugged his shoulders.  "It lay upon our way, madame,
and I fear I thought no more on the matter.  The world has many
battlefields——"

"But none as this one—to us."  Then she continued more brightly,
"Whither go we, then?"

Captain Protheroe pointed across the plain to one oil the villages just
emerging from the mist.

"Yonder is our destination, Mistress Barbara.  ’Tis the village of
Chedzey.  In that village is an inn, an inn so atrocious that neither
officer nor man of the royal troops would ever willingly put head inside
the door. I lay there once, in ignorance, and had hoped never again to
be so led astray.  But times have changed, and it must be our refuge."

"But how?  Surely the folk will suspect.  Our dress——"

"I purpose to go there as an officer of the royal army, who hath made an
important capture of two desperate rebels, yourself and Sir Ralph, to
wit.  The capture was made this morning before daybreak.  I have sent my
men on to Wells to fetch an escort; we remain all day at the inn, and at
night, our escort not arriving, we set out to meet them on foot.  What
think you of the scheme?"

"’Tis a mighty lame story," muttered Sir Ralph scornfully.

"Zounds, man, then devise a better," was the angry retort.  "What matter
the story an we carry it off with a high hand?  These rustics are simple
enow, and they know better than to carp or question the words of an
officer of the king.  Besides, we cannot lie out here all day, and
Mistress Barbara requires rest and food before she set off on another
tramp."

"As you will then," answered Ralph somewhat sulkily, "But the danger is
great."

"Of course the danger is great.  What then?  In a great game a man must
play high if he stands in to win.  What say you, madame?"

"That I fear you are a gambler, sir," she answered quickly, eager to
dispel the quarrel.  "But since there seems no alternative, why talk
further?  Let us to Chedzey and trust to fortune."

"We must needs wait a little space.  ’Tis somewhat early hours for
calling."

So they sat to rest, and watched the golden light sweep up the sky and
shade softly into the pale rose of the sunrise.

Presently Barbara turned to Captain Protheroe.

"Tell me a little how the battle was ordered," she commanded.

"Faith, madame, that is no easy task," he laughed. "A man hath little
time to note much of a fight save his own men and those immediately
opposing him.  And the greater part was fought in darkness, to boot.
But—yonder at Chedzey lay our camp, the militia was at Middlezey and the
cavalry with the general over there at Western Zeyland.  ’Twas a night
attack, you must know, and should have been a surprise, but the Duke’s
army, being stopped by the Bussex Rhine—yonder it lies."

"What!  That little ditch to stop an army?"

"Aye!  But ’twas flooded then, full twenty feet across. And they made
such a to-do being held up by a strange river that our outposts
discovered them and we soon turned out.  We couldn’t get across at them,
but drew up our men on the far side of the ditch and fired across. We
were twenty feet apart, mind you, but their fellows fired too high and
there was small slaughter on our side the ditch.  Later we bridged the
Rhine and got fairly at them, and then our cavalry came round from
Western Zeyland and then ’twas soon over.  There was no doubt of victory
from the beginning, and but for the darkness and some confusion at first
the fight had not lasted so long.  The peasants fought bravely enow, I
confess,—I would I had the training of some of them,—but the attack was
bungled.  Nothing was provided for, their guides led them astray, their
ammunition was lost, they had no competent leaders, and not knowing
whether to advance or retire, they stood still and were cut down like
grass.  The leadership was a disgrace.  Lord Grey and the cavalry ran
away, at the first shot, and the Duke and most of his officers directly
after."

"By Heavens, sir!  I will endure no more."

Sir Ralph stood beside them, his hand clapped to his sword-hilt, his
face crimson, his eyes blazing with fury.

"I will endure no more o’ this!" he cried.  "Is it not enough, sir, that
you force yourself upon this lady’s company, but you must needs poison
her ears with lies concerning your damned victory, with dastardly
slanders against myself and my friends?  By Heaven, sir, but you shall
answer for those words ere the world be a day older."

Captain Protheroe stared for a moment in amazement.  Then he gave a
quick exclamation of annoyance and embarrassment.

"Peste!" he muttered.  "I had entirely forgotten you were o’ the other
party."

"Maybe, sir, but that is no excuse for your words."

The officer rose to his feet, looking annoyed and troubled.

"My words!  I am sorry they offend you.  Had I but remembered your
presence I had not spoken so rashly, perchance.  But—the words are
spoken, and"—with a shrug, "i’ faith, I cannot alter facts."

"Facts!  The whole story is a dastardly lie."

"Sir!"

"And you shall give me satisfaction."

"With the greatest pleasure, sir, as soon as I can come by a sword.  I
shall enjoy nothing more."

Barbara gazed desperately from one angry man to the other, hesitating
what best to do.  Then she stepped between them with quiet dignity.

"Ralph!  Captain Protheroe!  Gentlemen!  You forget yourselves, I
think."

Captain Protheroe flushed and bowed stiffly.  "Your pardon, madame," he
said coldly.

Sir Ralph looked moodily at the girl.

The danger was not yet past.

"Captain Protheroe," she continued, with the same quiet air of command,
"I have dropped my—my kerchief in yonder ditch, I think.  Will you have
the goodness to go in search of it."

He stared at the audacity of the request, for as Barbara had never
approached the place she indicated, his search promised to be a somewhat
fruitless one.  But meeting her resolute glance he turned without a
word, and strode down into the deep tangle of gorse and bracken that
covered the bottom of that dried-up ditch.

Then Barbara turned to Ralph, and used all her arts to bring him to a
more peaceable frame of mind.

"Indeed, Ralph," she urged, "’tis sheer folly to be so enraged; you
could scarce be more so had you run away in good truth.  He meant not to
offend thee, I am sure on’t.  He spoke but what he knew.  Doubtless all
the royal side think thus of the fight."

"But ’tis a sheer lie to say we ran away at the first shot, or for that
matter, ran away at all.  A foul, dastardly lie."

"Oh, hush, Ralph.  He speaks but as he has heard, and doubtless he
believes it to be true.  Anyhow, ’tis nought to fight about."

"You don’t understand, Barbara," persisted the enraged man impatiently.
"What should you know of a man’s honour, and when it behooves him to
fight for it?  I tell you he must answer for his words."

"And I tell you you must not fight.  Think, Ralph, suppose you killed
each other, I should be alone."

There were tears of desperation in her eyes; he was moved to pity.

"There, there!  Barbara, don’t you be troubled," he said, patting her
hand with an air of humouring kindness.  "I promise you we will not
fight yet, not at least till you are in safety.  I doubt not ’twill need
both our wits to get out of this pother.  A quarrel does not stale with
delay, we’ll postpone it till more favourable date."

And with that Barbara was for the present content. She had staved off
the fight; who could tell what the future might bring?

So they turned to seek Captain Protheroe, but he was not in sight,
neither did he answer to their call. But hurrying to the edge of the
fosse they peered down and saw him, on his knees, in a tangle of
bracken, all his attention riveted upon a small packet which he held in
his hands.

Barbara called to him eagerly.

"I have found my kerchief, ’tis needless to seek further.  What have you
there?"

Then he rose to his feet, and climbed up to her side. The two on the
bank stared at him in amazement; his eyes blazed with a strange light,
and his voice trembled with excitement.

"Mistress Barbara!  Sir Ralph!  What think you I have found?  Nay, you
would never dream it.  ’Tis a miracle of wonder.  ’Tis well-nigh
inconceivable."

"But what is it?  What mean you?" they cried in amaze.

His hand shook with eagerness as he held out his prize. ’Twas a small
letter-case in green silk, richly embroidered in gold; a maze of
scrolls, in the centre of which were the letters J. M. entwined beneath
a coronet sewn with pearls.  Barbara looked at it in doubt; what might
be there to cause such desperate eagerness.

"J. M.," she questioned.  "That is——"

"James, Duke of Monmouth, madame, who else?  And were there a doubt, the
contents dispel it."

"The contents?"

"Aye.  I have already searched it.  It contains five letters, so
precious, madame, that it would seem he bore them ever about his person.
How they came here is a mystery; he must have lost them in the hurry of
his flight.  ’Twas indeed irony of fate that he should lose them just in
the time of need."

"But what are these letters?" interrupted Ralph impatiently.

"Three are from Lady—from a woman."

"You did not read them!" interposed Barbara quickly.

"Nay, madame, they are sacred.  We will leave them to the grave Nature
herself has prepared."

He tore them in pieces and scattered them slowly into the ditch.  Then
as the last scrap of paper settled into the shadow of the gorse, he
muttered softly:

"There lies, I doubt not, the story of a hopeless love."

"But the others!" interposed Ralph sharply.

"The others!"  Here Captain Protheroe laughed quickly, all the
excitement returning to his face.  "Ah! the old fox, how he duped us!
These other letters are from no less a person than George Jeffreys, Lord
Chief Justice of England."

"From Jeffreys, and to the Duke?"

"Even so.  Faith!  I knew the scare at the Duke’s invasion was great,
but I never dreamed ’twas so serious as to lead so cautious a toad as
Jeffreys thus far to commit himself."

"Read!" commanded Barbara, in a maze of thought.

So Captain Protheroe again unfolded the letters and read their contents
aloud, while his companions listened with breathless eagerness.


_To his Grace the Duke of Monmouth by the hand of my Secretary Stephen
Jewars:_

YOUR GRACE.—Concerning the matters upon which Mr. Ferguson hath already
spoken with me, I do assure your Grace that I am your Grace’s most
devoted servant in this affair, and I do earnestly pray that your
Grace’s present undertaking may meet with success.  The time is well
nigh ripe for the attempt.  The nation hath been much discontented with
the manner of the late elections, and the speech of Master Edward
Seymour (of which doubtless your Grace hath heard), is the subject of
conversation throughout the town, having awakened much thought in the
minds of the people.  His present Majesty sits but unsteadily upon the
throne, and his power will be yet more greatly shaken when he hath
carried out that which is in his mind.  For ’tis his fixed intention to
forward by all means the cause of the Papish religion so abhorrent to
the people of England, and to this end he purposeth as soon as may be to
seek to bring about the repeal of the Habeas Corpus and the abolition of
the Test Act.  It needeth but the introduction of such measures to
awaken in all power the indignation of this people, and to turn their
eyes at once to him who alone is at hand to save them from tyranny and
oppression, your Grace’s self.  Therefore, your Grace, I do most humbly
beseech you to delay yet a little while, this undertaking, till His
Majesty shall have so deeply committed himself in defence of his
religion that his person shall have become abhorred of all the people,
and your Grace shall indeed be welcomed as the saviour of an unhappy
nation.  And to this end, I will with all diligence seek to abuse the
mind of His Majesty with regard to the will of his subjects, and so urge
him more speedily on his course.

I rely upon your Grace’s sacred promise, to preserve this letter a
secret even from your Grace’s most intimate followers, for rumour is
many tongued, and as you will readily conceive should a breath of
suspicion light upon me, my power to assist your Grace with information
of the Council Chamber will be forever destroyed.

Ever your Grace’s most devoted servant,
       GEORGE JEFFREYS.


"This second is dated June, written after the Duke’s landing, when all
London was in a ferment as to what should befall."


YOUR GRACE.—I do greatly rejoice to hear what manner of welcome hath
been accorded your Grace.  Only a consciousness that I may better serve
your Grace in my present post holds me back from hastening to your side.
But I must warn your Grace that many preparations are about to be made
to withstand your progress.  General Feversham will start for the West
in three days, and with him all the forces collected in this
neighbourhood; General Churchill hath already departed thither with the
Blues.  His Majesty hath further summoned home such regiments as are at
present abroad in the Dutch service, but their loyalty is greatly
questioned, and ’tis also feared that the militia of Devon and Somerset
will at the first encounter go over to the side of your Grace.

It were wise, an it meet with your Grace’s approval to strike rapidly
for London, avoiding encounter with General Feversham (of whose route I
will keep your Grace informed).  For here be few troops and those of
doubtful loyalty, and the late arrests in the City have won for your
Grace many waverers.

Again relying upon your Grace’s promise to keep this matter secret I
remain deeply grateful to your Grace for your most generous offers, and
I pray Heaven to send your Grace all success in this undertaking.

Ever your Grace’s most devoted servant,
       GEORGE JEFFREYS.


"So they run.  Treason clear enow, is’t not?"

"Pah! the traitor!" cried Ralph furiously.  "And now, having himself
conspired against the King, yet he goes free and sits high, judging his
fellow conspirators."

"And such judgments," cried Barbara.  "Such wicked, brutal judgments.
Oh! ’tis unbearable."

"And yet, Mistress Barbara, methinks his lordship is himself in no very
enviable position.  I doubt not he would give much to know the
whereabouts of these letters.  And when he sits in court, and rolls out
his bloody sentences, I dare swear his own head feels somewhat unsteady
on his shoulders."

"That which we overheard in the inn at Taunton, was not that also part
of his treachery?"

"By Heavens, yes.  This explains his dealings with Ferguson.  Doubtless
Ferguson acted as go-between; he knew the secret and he is no man to
spare his friend an he can use him.  It was indeed highly important
Ferguson should leave the country in safety."

"But why did not Duke Monmouth betray him?" asked Barbara.

"Because the Duke was no traitor," answered Ralph sharply.

"Possibly," answered the captain drily.  "And otherwise, he had lost the
proofs.  Men say the Duke wrote to his Majesty, claiming to have some
secret to confide in him after his arrest; is’t possible he referred to
this treachery of Jeffreys?  But ’twould have been useless to bring such
accusation without proof."

"Well, here are the proofs.  Now what were best to do?" began Ralph
eagerly.

"Nothing."

"Nothing!  What! when you hold in your hands such perfect revenge,
wouldest leave the scoundrel free to guard his neck in safety?"

"The safety of Jeffreys’ neck is a matter of small importance to me
compared with the safety of my own. Jeffreys is a man in power.  There
are, certainly, other men in power, who would give substantial
consideration for the possession of this knowledge and who would
joyfully work his ruin.  Sunderland or my Lord Halifax, for example.
There are such men, I say, but unfortunately, it is—er—far from
convenient for me to appear before them at present.  No, we are outlaws
flying from the justice of the country, and the faster we fly, the wiser
we shall be.  Let us get safely to Holland, there will be time enough
for revenge when our own necks are in safety."

Ralph submitted reluctantly.  ’Twas natural that to him, whose own
friends and followers had suffered so horribly at the hands of the lord
chief justice, revenge should appear more sweet than life itself, but he
recognised the truth of his companion’s words, and for Barbara’s sake,
if for no other, consented to leave the matter in Captain Protheroe’s
hands.

The sun was now risen, and the clear light revealed the pallor of
Barbara’s face, the dark rings of weariness round her eyes.  Reproaching
himself for having so long forgotten her, Captain Protheroe proposed
they should at once repair to the village.

Their preparations were soon completed.  The captain buckled on Ralph’s
sword, tied the latter’s hands behind him, and drawing Barbara’s arm
through his they marched forward.



                             *CHAPTER XIX*


The village of Chedzey was little more than a collection of mean
cottages, the largest of which was the inn. The inhabitants were already
stirring, and the wife of the innkeeper was standing at her door when
the party approached.

She stared in amazement and pity at Barbara’s tattered garments and
weary face, and cast a scowl in the direction of the officer whom she
recognized as one of the hated Tangiers regiment, lately the scourge of
the countryside.  To his demand for beds and breakfast she answered
sulkily that he must seek further, the house could provide him nothing,
and even when he sharply urged his commands, she advanced grumbling
objections and refused to move from the doorway.

But upon this her husband appeared, in fear at sight of the officer, and
sharply bade her hold her peace, and let the strangers enter.

"Art mad, wife?" he whispered.  "Wouldest have the house burned about
our ears, that thou darest to thwart one o’ Kirke’s officers?  Stand by,
and let him have his way."

"Thou wast ever a chicken-hearted fool, John," retorted the woman
scornfully.  "This is an honest house, and not for such wastrels as they
o’ the royal army.  But have your way and don’t blame me an you like not
your customers."

"Pardon, your honour," cried the man, bowing low before the captain.
"The woman’s tongue runs out of all holding.  Peace, jade, and get you
in, or ’twill be the worse for you."

With an angry glance at her husband the woman withdrew, and the host led
the way upstairs into a poorly-furnished parlour, where after some
little delay breakfast was served, no very tempting meal, but welcome
indeed to the famished travellers.

Judging that where most is told, least is surmised, Captain Protheroe
gave mine host a detailed account of the capture of his prisoners,
adding such realistic details as most appealed to his sense of fitness.
His horse, he said had been shot by the rebel, hence his journeying to
the village on foot, his only trooper having been despatched to Wells
for fresh horses and escort.

Barbara and Ralph listened with great interest to the dramatic account
of the latter’s desperate struggle, with difficulty refraining from
applause at the close of his picturesque statement.

But the woman’s eyes filled with tears, when she learned the nature of
her guests, and when later she conducted Barbara to her chamber, she
hung over her with a thousand tender offices, bathing her tired feet,
brushing out her tossed hair, doing all in her power to increase the
comfort of the weary girl.

"Eh! my dearie, my dearie," she cried pityingly. "What will they do to
thee?  And so young, too, as thou art.  But ’tis a black-hearted crew
they are, and no denying it.  My heart bleeds for thee, my beauty. Curse
them!  Curse them to hell, say I.  Nay, my tongue runs wildly, I know,
but who could help it. Look you, my pretty, I have a son, even such as
thy brother yonder, but younger by some years.  To the fight he would
go, I could not hold him back.  And I sat here all that bloody night,
hearkening to the firing, dreaming that each shot bore his death.  He
came not back.  Then I went out to search; I sought night and day among
the slain, but he was not there.  So I blessed Heaven, and waited his
return.  But he comes not, nor sends, and I know not where he lies; at
times ’twould seem I can bear no more, but must e’en go seek him through
the world, till I find him.  Ah, my lamb! my son, my bonny son, where
art thou?"

Thus she wailed, and Barbara, despite her weariness, comforted her as
best she might, praying to Heaven for pity on this sorrow no earthly
hand could soothe.

Presently the woman recovered, and with many apologies, rose to leave
the room, yet she turned once again before she reached the door.

"My dearie, it seems not possible to aid thee, yet be sure, an I can do
aught for thee, I will do it.  And who can say?  A chance may offer.  I
will watch.  Now sleep, I will weary thee no more."

In order to give more realism to the story of his capture, and also to
prevent their disturbance, Captain Protheroe chose to rest in the
parlour, out of which both the sleeping chambers led.  As luck would
have it, they were the sole visitors to the inn, a little-frequented
place, and were consequently left to sleep in peace throughout the day.
They were full wearied, and it was not until five in the evening that
Captain Protheroe roused his companions, and summoning mine host, gave
orders that dinner be presently served.

The three adventurers were thoroughly refreshed by their long rest,
their spirits were high, and when they assembled at the meal they were
all prepared to play to the utmost advantage their several parts in the
game of chance upon which they had embarked.

Therefore, while mine host prepared the table, Captain Protheroe,
remembering his story, enquired most particularly whether his escort had
not yet arrived, expressing great indignation when he learned that it
was yet to be expected.

Barbara laughed mockingly behind mine host’s fat back while this
conversation was toward.  Her amusement increased as the game proceeded.
She longed to add dramatic touches of her own, but prudently refrained.
Nevertheless, she challenged the officer mischievously with her eyes,
and he, accepting the challenge, cursed the lazy trooper roundly, rated
mine host, and bade him keep sharp lookout lest the escort, missing the
house, ride past unheeding.

So they sat down to dinner, mocking at Fortune, jesting over the gulf
which yawned at their feet.

And Fortune, in revenge for their confidence, turned her wheel.

For, as danger oft shows least when nearest to hand, scarcely had they
commenced their meal when the sound of approaching horses broke upon
their ears, and two minutes later after a confusion of shouts, the door
was burst open, and mine host hurried into the room.

"Your honour!" he cried joyously.  "All is well. Your honour’s escort
has arrived."

Ralph dropped his knife with a rude clatter, and half started from his
seat, while a quick gasp of fear escaped from Barbara’s white lips.

Captain Protheroe paused for a moment, his glass to his lips; cool
soldier though he was, his hand trembled and the red wine splashed over
the brim and stained his sleeve.

Then he turned on mine host with a sudden oath:

"What mean you by this intrusion, blockhead?" he thundered.  "Shut the
door and say your say.  What is’t?"

"The escort, your honour," stammered mine host. "’Twas even as your
honour supposed.  They had mistaken the place, and would have ridden
past, had I not hailed them, saying your honour was even here. They wait
in the street below."

"Let them wait, we cannot set out yet, before we have dined," retorted
the captain sharply.  "See the men have drink, and leave us.  Shut the
door behind you," he shouted as mine host left the room, "’tis most
infernally cold here."

Directly the door was closed, all three sprang to the window.  ’Twas
even as the man had said.  In the street below six mounted troopers were
drawn up; but their leader was not in sight, he stood talking to mine
host at the door.

"Heaven help us!" cried Ralph desperately.  "What to do now, I wonder.
What in heaven and earth can we do?"

Barbara was silent, her eyes fixed on Captain Protheroe’s face.

He strode the room fiercely as his custom was, in thought.  Then he gave
a short laugh.

"So much for vainglorious boastings," he muttered. "Out of our own
mouths we are betrayed.  Certes, the game is against us now.  We could
hold the room—but that were folly.  And escape is not to be thought on.
Yet—Pah! what a fool!  No.  I see nought to be done, save wear a bold
countenance, and play out the game to the end.  ’Tis a wise maxim when
the luck turns.  And it may be the men have not yet heard——"

Again the door was opened and mine host entered once more; the joyous
importance had died from his face; he looked depressed and dubious.

"Your honour!" he began nervously, "I seem, in my zeal to obey your
commands, to have mistaken the matter.  These men are not your honour’s
escort, but a party of dragoons riding from Bridgewater to Wells.
Nevertheless, seeing the escort does not yet arrive, and learning your
honour’s difficulty, they put themselves at your honour’s service.  And
their honourable commander craves the honour of waiting upon your honour
in your honour’s room."

A moment’s perceptible silence, then with a curt "’Tis well, bring him
here," mine host was dismissed.

The three fugitives waited in silence for the man’s return.  Only when
the soldier’s footstep sounded on the stairs, Captain Protheroe leaned
forward and laid his hand on Barbara’s arm.

"Do not be afraid, Mistress Barbara."  he said quickly. "We will win
safe through this somehow.  Trust us."

And Barbara, with trembling lips, smiled bravely back at him.

"I am not afraid," she said simply.

Then mine host, with many obsequious bows, ushered in the visitor.

The officer was a big, blustering fellow, coarse of face, and rough in
manner.  He strode noisily into the room, and on seeing the captain
burst into a boisterous laugh.

"Ha, Protheroe, my boy!  Well met.  The fellow below couldn’t tell me
your name or I warrant you I’d have been up here long before.  What’s
all this about your escort, eh?  Lost your horse, two captures, and the
fool of a trooper not yet returned.  Ha, ha!  Protheroe, you go well to
work.  ’Tis good I came this way, you’d scarce fancy passing the night
here, eh?  We are riding to Wells and can take you on with us."

"Good!" answered the captain quickly.  "But we’ve no hurry to start yet
awhile.  Sit down and drink, man, the night’s young enough yet, and my
men may still come.  Look you, fellow,"—to mine host,—"set out more
wine, and then begone and see to the men below. And harkee, don’t come
crashing in like a wild bull again; if we want you I will call.  And if
my men arrive, let them wait below.  Now begone."

Then he turned to his guest.

"Come, Jonas, sit down, and drink; there’s no need to start for another
hour."

Captain Jonas was standing in the centre of the room, hat in hand,
bowing elaborately to Barbara, and ogling her the while with his great
protruding eyes.

"By Jove, Protheroe!" he drawled, "is this your capture.  Zounds!  What
a prize.  You’re a hard man to keep such a beauty in limbo.  Best put
yourself under my protection, mistress; I’ll keep you safe.  I’ll not
swear to set you free, but at least I’ll wager that pretty face shall
never waste in prison."

Checking swiftly an angry movement from Ralph, Barbara curtsied with
quiet dignity, and moved again to her seat at the table.

"Oh, ho! a lady, eh?  Who is she, Protheroe?" asked Captain Jonas in an
audible whisper.

Captain Protheroe shrugged his shoulders.

"Pah!  Only a rebel.  Come, drink, man, and tell Us news.  Where do you
hail from?"

"Bridgewater!  As dead and drear a hole as ever man was quartered in.
Praise be to the devil we’re moving on to Wells, and in a month we’ll be
quit o’ this cursed west country, where there is neither a pretty
woman—saving your presence, madame—nor a decent bottle of wine for a man
to solace himself withal.  I thought you were at Taunton, Protheroe!"

"I was—till yesterday.  Is there no news from your way?"

"By-the-way, Protheroe!" he exclaimed with a sudden burst of laughter,
setting down his glass and slapping his knee.  "How could I have forgot
it!  I’ faith there is news, news o’ the queerest, and you are the very
man it concerns."

"Ah!  What then?"

"A fellow came over from Taunton yesterday morning with the wildest
tale.  Some cock-and-bull story of your arrest, and then later of a
prison-breaking, and your disappearance with some woman.  But ’twas but
a half-drunk trooper, and as I was over in Taunton on Monday and heard
nought o’ the matter, I beat the fellow as a slanderer of the King’s
service.  ’Twas all a lie, I suppose."

Captain Protheroe glanced quickly at the speaker. Then he leaned across
the table and poured out a fresh glass of wine.

"Well, no, not entirely a lie," he answered coolly.  "I was arrested, a
jest of the colonel’s, some wager with my Lord Jeffreys.  I was released
in the morning, of course.  The prison-breaking is true, too, ’twas the
same night.  But a tale grows like a mushroom in the telling.  Heard any
news from town?"

"What should I hear in a hole like Bridgewater?" answered Captain Jonas
indignantly.

Then he turned to Barbara, at whom he had been staring with insulting
openness ever since his entrance.

"I could swear I have seen your face before, madame, but I can’t for the
life of me recollect where.  ’Tisn’t a face one forgets soon, neither,"
he continued, ogling her afresh.

"My poor face is honoured by your recollection, sir," answered the girl
coolly.  "It must be some time ago that we met.  Since my escape I have
necessarily had little converse with the King’s officers."

The man laughed loudly.

"I don’t doubt it, madame.  Your escape, eh?  So you broke prison, did
you?  Was that long since?"

Barbara bit her lip in irritation at her slip.

"Some while since, sir.  But few words make least mischief, so, an’t
please you, I’ll keep my story for the crown lawyers to devise.  You can
hear it then, an you care to attend my trial."

"By Jove, madame, you have courage," laughed the man admiringly.  "Come,
what is your name?"

"That also, sir, ’tis the lawyer’s business to discover," she answered
calmly.

The soldier laughed once more, and turning to Captain Protheroe, he
entered forthwith into a keen discussion as to the merits of the new
regiments the King was then raising and the possibility of the formation
of a large standing army in the country.

The three conspirators drew sighs of relief at the change of subject,
and for some little time there was peace, while the new arrival
chattered, drank, and ogled Barbara, and they waited with anxious hearts
for the next move in the game.

Suddenly Captain Jonas broke off abruptly in the middle of a
dissertation concerning the absolute demand for more careful training of
cavalry, and after staring for a moment fixedly at the girl, he burst
into a quick laugh.

"By Jove!  I have it," he shouted.  "’Twas in court at Taunton, I saw
you, madame, and not later than Monday last.  I saw your trial.  What a
fool I am! And the name, the name?  What was it now?  Ha, ha! madame,
I’ll have it in a minute, we’ll not leave it to the lawyers to devise."

"Well!  Lydia Philbeg, an you must have it," answered Barbara calmly.

But Captain Jonas shook his head.

"Softly, madame, it ran not so.  Philbeg!  No, I swear that was not the
name."

"What a pother about a name," interrupted Captain Protheroe impatiently.
"Leave the girl in peace, an she wishes to be unknown.  Fill your glass,
man, and pass the bottle.  ’Tis poor stuff, but what can one expect in
such a hole?  Where are you quartered in Wells, eh?"

"We put up at the Green Buck.  ’Tis not much of a place, but the wine is
fair, and old Dame Barbara has—By Heavens! the very name.  That’s queer
now. Barbara——Barba—Barbara Winslow or I’m a Dutchman! Your health,
Mistress Barbara Winslow.  Ha, ha!  I knew I’d remember it soon.  We
toasted you after the trial, before I rode back to quarters.  Lydia
Philbeg, forsooth!  Ha, ha! madame, I’ve got you now!"

"’Well, I hope to goodness you’re satisfied now, Jonas," answered the
Captain impatiently.  "What a man you are for hunting a hare to death!"

But a sudden gravity had come over Captain Jonas.

"Barbara Winslow!" he muttered.  "Zounds!  Protheroe, that’s queer.
’Tis the very name of the woman they said you had run off with from
Taunton gaol."

Captain Protheroe set down his glass suddenly.  He saw suspicion dawning
in his companion’s eyes. "Hang it all, Jonas!  The fellow must have been
a d—— an infernal fool.  Mistress Winslow escaped indeed, and I was
posted after her in pursuit, and caught her this morning.  That’s the
length of the story. Why, devil take you, man, if I had run off with
her, should I be here now?  Not unless I was a greater fool than—than
you are."

But suspicion still hardened in the soldier’s eyes.

"Then did the lady escape alone?" he questioned cunningly.

"I bore Mistress Winslow company," interrupted Ralph quietly.

Captain Jonas turned to him sharply.

"You?" he asked contemptuously.  "And who may you be?"

The youth drew himself up haughtily.

"I am Sir Ralph Trevellyan," he answered, eyeing the captain defiantly.

"Ralph Trevellyan.  Why that’s the name o’ the fellow who escaped us at
Burrows’ Farm, four days syne. Burrows’ son told me so himself, under
the whip.  You never saw the inside of Taunton gaol, my friend."

"Tut! man," interposed Captain Protheroe lightly. "Let them have their
little romance.  We can prove their identity well enow, so a lie more or
less is no matter, and seems to cheer their spirits mightily.  Fill your
glass, and tell us the latest about the fair Arabella."

Captain Jonas darted a sharp glance at the speaker. Captain Protheroe
leaned back in his chair, and met the suspicious glance with a lazy
smile.  But behind his nonchalant demeanour his wits worked shrewdly,
and he never for an instant took his eyes from his companion’s face.

There was a slight pause.  Then in an altered voice Captain Jonas asked:

"Where did you take them, Protheroe?"

"Peste!  What a man you are for detail.  If you must have the story, I
ran them to earth between four and five this morning, in hiding in Mart
Mill three miles south of Bridgewater."

A strange light crept into Captain Jonas’ eyes.  There was dead silence
for a moment before he answered in a strange voice:

"That is strange, Protheroe.  I drew that cover myself this morning at
four o’clock, and I’ll be sworn it was empty."

Then suddenly dashing down his glass, he sprang to his feet.

"By Heavens, Protheroe!" he shouted fiercely, "I believe you’ve been
lying to me from beginning to end."

But he got no further.  Ere Captain Protheroe could snatch his sword
from its sheath, Ralph was at the man’s throat, burying his fingers deep
in the soft flesh.

Captain Jonas was a strong man, and despite the suddenness of the
attack, he fought with desperate fury. They swayed together, tottered,
fell; rolling over in a wild indistinguishable mass of struggling limbs.
There was no sound, save only Ralph’s quick breathing and now and again
a choking, inarticulate cry from Captain Jonas.  Over again they rolled,
and now the man’s struggles were weaker.  Ralph’s grip had told.

"Oh! are you killing him?" whispered Barbara, watching the struggle in
horror.

"No, he’s not dead yet," gasped Ralph.  "Out of the way, Barbara, while
we finish him."

"Ah, no!  You will not kill him now!" she gasped.

"There will be no need if he is quiet," answered the captain quickly.
"But we must get him out of the way as soon as we can.  Give me a cloth
to gag him."

Quickly Barbara tore off her kerchief, and together the men gagged his
mouth, and strapped his arms with his own sword-belt.  They rifled his
pockets of money, and took sword and pistol, for necessity knows no law.

Meanwhile Captain Protheroe devised his plan.

"We must get out of here as soon as possible," he urged, "or these
cursed troopers will be down on us. And ’twere useless to slip away
secretly, ’twould but arouse suspicion, and bring mine host to the
search. We must play high again and carry it off by a bold show.  What
then?  The gallant captain is drunk, he would have been so in another
hour, had he been left in peace.  We will put him to bed, and bid the
men leave him undisturbed.  Then we take three of the troopers’ horses
and ride off, leaving them to follow. when their officer is returned to
his senses.  What say you?"

"But is there no risk——" began Barbara.

"Good Heavens! madame, of course there are, a thousand risks, but we
have no time to stop and count them. Once let the men discover us, and
it’s all over.  Now to bed with this gentleman.  We must wait a little
to give him a reasonable time to get drunk, and then—away."

They carried Captain Jonas into one of the bed chambers, tied him
securely to the bed with one of the sheets, and covering him over well,
they left him, locking the door behind them.

Then they sat down to wait, their hearts leaping at every footstep,
watching the light fade in the west, and listening to the distant sounds
of the troopers carousing at the back of the house.

But after half an hour they could endure no more. Ralph’s nerves were
shaken by the struggle, for his strength was not yet returned after his
wound, and Barbara was trembling from head to foot.  So Captain
Protheroe resolved to wait no longer, but to make their escape while
they could.

Accordingly they descended the stairs, and summoning mine host, they
paid their reckoning generously, telling him at the same time that the
captain had gone to sleep and must in no wise be disturbed.

Mine host showed no surprise.  He knew his wines, and doubtless was
accustomed to the speedy overthrow of his guests.  Moreover, it was not
often that his house met with such patrons, and he blessed Heaven
secretly for his good fortune in sending him a second officer in need of
a night’s shelter.

Then, with some misgivings Captain Protheroe summoned one of the
troopers, and bade him bring up three of the horses.  But the man was
half-fuddled with drink, and only stared stupidly at the officer.  So
they thrust him aside and unhitched the horses themselves, and the cool,
leisurely manner in which they went about the business disarmed
suspicion, and none made a motion to gainsay them.

Captain Protheroe lifted Barbara into the saddle.  She was perforce
obliged to ride astride.  He felt her tremble in his arms, but her face
was calm and firm.

The woman came out of the house with a cloak and wrapped it round her.

Barbara stooped down quickly.

"The troopers!" she whispered; "keep them here.  I may escape from him,
but from the troopers never."

The woman patted her hand tenderly.

"Trust me, my dearie," she answered softly.  "An wine can make them
drunk they shan’t move till morning.  God keep thee safe, my dearie."

"And bring your son to you again."

"I ride to Wells," said Captain Protheroe as he mounted.  "If my men
arrive send them after me. Tell Captain Jonas I hope to meet him there
anon. Good-even."

They clattered off into the darkness.

"Was that wise?" whispered Barbara when they had left the village behind
them.  "Will they not seek us in Wells?"

The captain smiled sagely.

"Truth is often expedient, Mistress Barbara, because no one believes it.
Captain Jonas is one if those crafty fools who if they would ride
secretly to Wells say loudly: ’I ride to Taunton,’ and follow the road a
mile or so before they double back, chuckling at their wisdom.  I trust
him to judge me by himself."

"Is not horse-stealing a capital offence?" queried Ralph cheerfully.

Captain Protheroe laughed.

"I’ faith, I have committed so many capital offences during the last
three days, that one more or less is of small moment.  Prison-breaking,
petty larceny, assault and robbery, and horse-stealing; ’tis a lively
record."

"We are well out of the last danger," sighed Barbara.

"By Heavens!  Yes.  I thought not to get off so easily.  My only plan
was to make the fellow drunk, or to lead Mistress Barbara to feign
illness when ’twas time to set out, and so we remain behind.  But the
stars are on our side, we have not only routed the enemy, but got off
with their supplies and transport, into the bargain.  We should be at
Wells by nine o’clock."

"And what then?  How shall we enter?  Will not the gates be shut?"

"I think not.  An they be ’tis no great matter to have them opened.
They make small difficulty of letting any enter, ’tis in getting out the
trouble lies."

"Aye! ’tis ever easier to go into a trap than to get out again,"
muttered Ralph doubtfully.

"Oh, Ralph! what words of ill omen!" cried Barbara with a shudder.

"In truth, I see not why we should go to Wells at all.  Why not ride
straight to the coast?" he queried, discontentedly.

"Simply because Mistress Barbara cannot lie out in any hole and corner,
until we have the luck to find a vessel bound for Holland.  She is not
as we are," answered Captain Protheroe sharply.  "In Wells she will be
at least comfortably housed."

"But indeed I am strong.  I can endure hardship," cried Barbara eagerly.
"Think not of that.  Let us to the coast an it be indeed the safer
plan."

"On my honour, Mistress Barbara, I believe the boldest plan is ever the
safest.  I know that the coast is strictly guarded, escape in these
garments would be impossible; we have ’fugitive’ writ large upon us.
But who would dream of seeking us in Wells?  Where should we be safer
than under the protecting care of my Lord Jeffreys himself?"

So they acquiesced, and galloped on rapidly through the gathering
darkness.  But half-a-mile from the town they halted, and dismounting,
drove their horses into the fields, deeming it wiser to enter the town
on foot. Half-an-hour later they were safely sheltered in an old
rambling house, situated in the lower part of the towns where Mistress
Fytch dwelt.



                              *CHAPTER XX*


Mistress Fitch was a quiet old dame who, unlike the majority of her
kind, concerned herself but little with her neighbours.  Her connection
with the Protheroe family had imbued her with a certain show of pride,
and the gossips in their turn—finding that she displayed a disposition
to resent their advances, and finding, moreover, that the old lady’s
uneventful existence furnished no scope for their curiosity—had ceased
to interest themselves in her and her affairs.

She lived in a house larger, indeed, than her needs, where one room was
ever kept prepared for the occupation of her beloved Master Miles,
should he chance to be in the neighbourhood.  The main feature of her
life indeed was a devotion to her foster-son; nothing he could do ever
came amiss to her, and she had the most absolute confidence in his
judgments.

Accordingly, when he and his companions arrived late one night, and
abruptly informed the old lady that they must take up their abode with
her for a while, it required only a word or two of explanation of the
circumstances of their position to satisfy the old lady, and to cause
her to set about her preparations for their accommodation.

They found but little difficulty in concealing their presence in the
house.  Lest an arrival had been noted, Mistress Fytch was instructed,
if questioned, to speak of a visit from her nephew and niece from
Taunton; but their entry into the house had been at a late hour, when
the neighbours had already retired to rest, and as a matter of fact none
had marked them.

They dared not venture forth save after nightfall and then with extreme
caution, but, although at times the hours hung somewhat heavily on their
hands, the rest and the peaceful atmosphere of the house were very
welcome after the turmoil of the past week.

Barbara soon found full occupation for her time. With intent to relieve
Mistress Fytch, she took into her own hands the greater part of the
housework, and busied herself about parlour and kitchen with all the
delight of a child engaged in a new amusement.  She had certainly slight
knowledge of the art of cookery, but it was never her nature to
anticipate difficulties, and she applied herself to her new tasks with
the same grave resolution, the same hopeful self-confidence that she was
ever wont to bring to bear upon all her undertakings.

Some of her experiments certainly horrified poor Mistress Fytch, but the
old lady speedily grew to love the girl, despite her whimsies, and
despairing of controlling so determined an assistant, she let her have
her way.

But Barbara had also another task to her hand.  For Ralph, his strength
exhausted by exposure and starvation, was laid low with a fever, and for
two days lay delirious, dependent on her care.  She nursed him with
unwearying tenderness, though the duty was no light one, and she shrank
in dread at his raving, which wrung her heart sorely.  For ever his talk
was of Barbara, Barbara his perfect woman, Barbara whom he worshipped
with his heart and soul.  And as she listened to his words, and learned
the story of his years-long devotion, her heart grew heavy with pity and
she redoubled her tenderness towards him, crying to herself that she was
cruel, cruel, to have nought to give him in return.

Even when the delirium passed, and he was on the speedy road to
recovery, her self-reproach, her gratitude, led her in cruel kindness
still to continue her tender ministrations, and as he watched her
waiting upon him, hovering over him, ever watchful to supply his wants,
it seemed to him that Mistress Fytch’s simple rooms were changed to a
veritable paradise, and those few short days passed like a glimpse of
heaven.

But for Miles Protheroe life during those days was alternate heaven and
hell.

For howsoever rapturously a man may love a woman, regarding constantly
her courage, her beauty or even her disdain, yet is his love made more
devout when he may watch her, moving simple, gracious, sweet, about her
household work.  Then first is revealed to him the full influence of her
nature.  No haughty queen, no unapproachable goddess she, but the bright
light of a man’s life, the very homemaker, glorifying by the beauty of
her gracious presence the humblest tasks.

Captain Protheroe thus day by day grew to love Barbara more, but with
the growth of his love his despair increased at sight of her devotion to
Sir Ralph.

As she listened perforce to the sick man’s ravings, he would steal from
the room with despairing heart and maddened thought, that another could
pour out to her so freely the words which he might not speak.

So the days passed, until preparation for their escape from the country
could be perfected.  Captain Protheroe had not been idle in searching
for news of a vessel bound for Holland.  There was a certain old
shipmaster, John Quelch, whom he had known since boyhood, and to him he
resolved to turn for help, for Master Quelch, he knew well, was a
frequent visitor to Wells, where his sister kept an inn.  Accordingly at
the inn he ventured secretly to seek news of him, and there, luck being
with him, he discovered the man himself, and confided to him his
difficulties.  Master Quelch owed something to the captain’s kindness in
former days, and having readily promised his help, two days later
brought the welcome news that his brother’s vessel, the _Roaring
George_, was shortly to sail from Listoke and the skipper would take
them on board.  He further suggested that they journey to the coast as
his companions, and thus there would be less danger of interruption on
their way, since such journeys of seamen and their relatives were
frequent betwixt Wells and the sea, and he was a man well known upon the
road.

The fugitives accepted the offer right willingly, and this matter being
arranged, time again hung heavily on Captain Protheroe’s hands until the
day arrived for departure.  It was easy for Barbara to wait, busy with
her many duties; it was easy for Ralph, still weak from his fever; but
he had nought to do save sit hour-long watching Barbara at her work, and
wondering wherein exactly lay the magic of her charm.  All her ways
fascinated him, and he could not keep his eyes from following her every
movement.

This persistent watch upon her doings for a time annoyed and embarrassed
Barbara.  She felt sadly conscious of a want of habitude in her work,
and feared lest a critical brain lurked behind his observant glance.
She endeavoured to appear perfectly confident even with the results of
her cookery, but ’twas at times a trying effort. Yet, finding no
comments were offered, and her failures passed unnoticed, she grew
emboldened to meet him glance for glance, and what she read in his eyes
was so unmistakable that it brought the blush to her cheek, and the
mischievous smile to her lips, and, for women are at best but mortal,
sent her about her work with added daintiness and allurement.

But at length he could no longer satisfy himself with watching in
silence; the force of his love, hopeless though he feared it to be,
overpowered his prudence; he could not restrain his tongue.

Barbara was in the kitchen, concerned with the making of a pasty.  She
was alone, nor aware of his presence in the next room, and as she worked
she sang a plaintive little song concerning the mystery of love.  Thus
it ran:

    "Oh! what is love?  Some say it is but sorrow,
    Passion unholden, joy a three-part pain.
    Here for to-day but gone for aye to-morrow,
    Leaving behind a memory and a stain,
    If this be so, my heart it shall not move.
    Let me not love.  Let me not love.

    "Oh! what is love?  Some say ’tis but a dreaming
    Born in the Spring-time of a single sigh.
    Blazing in glory, earth an Eden seeming,
    Dying of passion as the roses die.
    If this be so, if love a vision prove,
    Let me not love.  Let me not love.

    "Oh! what is love?  A worship all undying.
    Faith looks to faith, and heart to heart has fled.
    Faith is fulfilled, no more the soul goes sighing.
    Love is for aye, and time itself is dead.
    If this be so, if earth a heaven may prove.
    Ah! give me love.  Ah! give me love."


Scarcely was the song ended when Captain Protheroe strode abruptly into
the room, and crossing to her side seized her almost roughly by the arm.

"Mistress Barbara," he asked hoarsely, "know you aught of what you
sing?"

She paused, silent, wondering at his tone.

"Ah!  Mistress Barbara," he continued more gently; "would it were mine
to teach you the meaning of your words."

But, though she dearly loved to read that look upon his face, yet at his
words a spirit of mischief possessed her; and, maiden-like, loving him
she loved to show him cruelty that she might hereafter prove the kinder
in atonement.  So drawing from him she turned to place her pasty in the
oven, at the same time asking mischievously:

"What!  Wouldest teach me that love is sorrow, sir?"

He smiled at her and shook his head.

"Nay, that was not all your song, Mistress Barbara."

"A worship all undying," she repeated softly.  Then she turned to him
demurely.

"Captain Protheroe, how long is’t since you saw the lady of whom you
spake to me in the forest, she who was once your queen?"

He started back angrily.

"Mistress Barbara!  Who hath been spreading scandalous stories
concerning me?" he cried in a fury of indignation.

She stared at him in amazement.

"Nay, sir, none that I know on," she faltered.

"Then what——"

"I did but wonder how long a man’s ’worship undying’ lives," she
answered mischievously.

He eyed her keenly for a moment, then he laughed.

"Sure a man can scarce be writ down inconstant because he remain not
true to his childhood’s love."

"Yet some men have proved themselves so constant," she murmured softly.

"That should be easy, madame, to one who hath known you all his life,"
he answered quickly, disarming her by his gallantry.  Then he continued:
"’Twould indeed go hard with me, must I forfeit all other loves for that
one, seeing the lady hath been wed for more than ten years."

"She is wed!  Ah!"  Then she looked at him curiously.  "You loved her
once?" she asked gently.

"Love!" he cried quickly.  "What should a boy of eighteen know of love?
Oh! he may dream he loves, but he knows nought of life; to him all women
are angels. But when a man loves, a man who knows his world, who hath
seen both what is good and evil in woman, who hath outgrown his
illusions; when he loves——  Ah! madame, what must a man feel, who,
having learned to detect the flaw in every gem, yet finds one perfect
pearl; who, having come to fear that purity in woman is but a dream of
youth, yet meets one to restore to him his hope. Ah! truly, a boy may
love a perfect woman, but a man must worship her with all his soul."

There was silence between them.  Presently he continued more lightly.

"That, Mistress Barbara, is a man’s love; what do you know of a
woman’s?"

"A woman’s love!" she began dreamily.  Then on a sudden she sprang to
her feet with a sudden cry.

"Oh! my pasty, my pasty!  I had altogether forgot it."

She flew to open the oven-door, but alas! it was too late, the pasty was
a cindered crust.  She drew it out and laid it on the table, then turned
to Captain Protheroe with a look of deep reproach.  To her indignation
he was laughing heartily at the disaster.

"Oh! ’tis too bad!" she cried indignantly.  "’Twas you who made me
forget it."

"’Pon my honour, Mistress Barbara, I am very sorry," he answered
penitently; "is’t indeed ruined.  Could we not scrape it or—or in some
other means——"

"No," she answered in melancholy tone; "’tis useless. I must e’en set to
work upon another."

"But I may stay and talk to you?" he pleaded.

"Certes, no," she cried sharply; "’twould but cause me to forget again.
Prithee, leave me alone, I do better so.  Indeed I will not have you
here.  Go!"

She frowned angrily, and he fled from her in despair, nor marked the
blank look of disappointment on her face when he obeyed her, nor the
sigh with which she turned again to work.  For man will never understand
that he was not born to obey woman, and that woman, true to nature, does
not require obedience at his hands.

’Twas that same evening.  Ralph was rapidly recovering health and
spirits, and the three were seated together in his room, chatting
merrily.

Presently Mistress Fytch climbed the stair, and entered the room, her
face beaming with pleasure.

"Mistress Barbara, my dearie," she began.  "There is a pedlar below."

"A pedlar!" cried Barbara, springing up with an alacrity that drew a
laugh from both her companions; "a pedlar!"

"Aye, dearie.  ’Twas Master Miles here bid me find one, saying you had
need of matters for your journey. This fellow hath but just come to
town, and they tell me he hath some rare stuffs to show, so I e’en bade
him bring them here to-night."

"Oh!  Nannie, how good, how—how heavenly of you," cried Barbara with
shining eyes.  "I will go to him on the instant, I will buy of his best,
I will.  Oh! how I have grown to hate the very sight of this gown!  To
think that I need no longer wear it!"

She clapped her hands in sheer delight.

"Don’t buy the whole pack, Barbara," cried Ralph cheerily as she hurried
away; "or we must charter a special vessel to carry your wardrobe to
Holland!"

"You grow well too fast, Ralph," was the laughing reply.  "I must needs
put you on bread and water an you wax too impertinent."

She shut the door behind her, and tripped down the stairs humming a
merry tune, all a woman’s inexplicable joy of purchase dancing in her
eyes.  The visitor was in the parlour, into which opened alike the door
of the staircase and the door of the street.  He was standing with his
back towards her, busily unstrapping his pack, but turned upon her
entrance.

On a sudden her cheeks grew white as her kerchief, and her eyes filled
with fear.  It was none other than Simon!—For a moment she hoped wildly
that he might not recognise her or, even recognising her, might not be
aware of her arrest and trial, but the hope was destined soon to fade.
For an instant the man stared at her in amazement, then a quick gleam of
satisfaction flashed across his face, and he broke into a low chuckle.

"Mistress Barbara Winslow!" he cried with an ugly grin at the trembling
girl.  "I come from Taunton, Mistress Winslow, from Taunton, where there
be those who mightily desire your presence.  There’s an empty cell in
Taunton gaol for your ladyship, there’s an idle whipping-post awaiting
you there, Mistress Barbara Winslow!"

Again he chuckled and rubbed his hands with malicious glee.

Barbara’s first impulse was to cry for help, and so bring down the two
men from above stairs to her aid. But with an effort she controlled
herself, for she perceived on the instant what must be the result.  The
pedlar was but a step from the street door; at her first alarm he would
make his escape, and returning speedily with the guard, would secure not
herself alone, but her friends.  Her wit seemed to desert her now, in
her greatest need; she could devise no plan of escape to insure the
safety of the three.  As yet the others might be safe, the man knew
nothing of their presence in the house.  Was it not better, braver, to
go with him at once, surrender herself, since clearly Heaven willed not
her escape, and so shield her companions from the danger that threatened
them?  For had Captain Protheroe rescued her from prison (she gave poor
Rob little credit for his share) only that she should, by cowardice,
betray him now?  And Ralph!  Had she saved him from death in the forest,
only to insure for him a death a thousand times more horrible?  Ralph,
so weak, so lightly despairing, who loved her so truly. Yes, she might
still save these two who had done so much for her.  She would not shrink
from the sacrifice.

Her mind was made up.

"God wills it," she said.  "You have found me.  I will go with you."

"That is wisdom, mistress," grinned the man.  "’Tis not here as at
Durford."  Quickly he put up again his pack, and shouldering it, laid
his hand upon her arm.

Firm and unflinching Barbara followed him to the door.  Simon laid his
hand upon the latch, another moment and they would have been in the
street. Suddenly he paused.  He turned his head to listen, and a smile
of low cunning crept slowly into his eyes.  For they heard the opening
of a door, and a man’s cheery whistle sounded in the room above.
Barbara gave a quick gasp of terror, she felt the pedlar’s eyes were
fixed upon her face.

"Quick, quick," she cried losing her wits in her excitement; "let us be
off.  Someone is coming."

"Aye," said the man slowly; "someone is coming. And there are two
rewards to be won in Taunton."

He released her arm, and still with his hand upon the latch, turned to
confront the newcomer.

Barbara could do no more.  With a sigh of desperation she sank into a
chair and covered her face with her hands.

The door opened and Captain Protheroe appeared.

For a moment the two men stood staring at each other, then the truth
flashed to the brain of the soldier and he made a spring forward to
secure the pedlar.  But the man was too quick for him; he darted through
the already opened door, into the street, slamming the door behind him.

Captain Protheroe was about to follow, but recognising the hopeless
folly of such action, he stopped, and having fastened the door turned to
where Barbara sat, white and trembling.

"The fellow knew you?" he asked sharply.

"Yes, he was about to take me to the guardhouse," she answered,
trembling.

"Good Heavens! why didn’t you cry for help?  We might have seized him
perchance."

"I—I feared, an I did so, he would discover that you and Ralph were
here," she stammered.  "’Twould have undone all three.  And Ralph——"

"You would have gone without a word?"

Barbara hesitated.

"I—I could not bear that Ralph should be taken," she muttered, shy even
then, of confessing her fear for his capture too.

He looked down at her for a moment with deep pain in his eyes:

"I see," he said gently; "I—I understand."

She knew that he did not understand but she could not tell him so, and
indeed he gave her no time.  In an instant he was alert, ready for
action.

"No time to lose, Mistress Barbara," he said cheerily. "We must be out
of this directly.  I’ll give your friend a quarter of an hour to tell
his tale and return with the guard."

"But how!  Where?" she cried desperately.  "Ralph can’t travel yet."

"He must.  You don’t know, Mistress Barbara, what can be done when it’s
a case of do it or hang.  Come."

They hurried upstairs, summoned Mistress Fytch, and quickly told their
story.

Ralph was up in an instant.

"I’m ready," he cried abruptly.  "What are the orders?"

He had learned much during the past ten days. Despite his jealousy of
Captain Protheroe he knew him as one to be relied on, and his love for
Barbara forbade him do aught that would increase the difficulties of the
one man who could save her.

"We’ve little time to consider ways and means now," muttered Captain
Protheroe, striding about the room as was his wont when in deep thought.
"You’ll take Mistress Barbara at once out by the north gate (twill not
yet be closed) and go by the fields to Mallet, ’tis but a mile hence.
Nannie must go too—’tis safe here for her no longer; and she knows the
road."

The old dame was called and matters quickly explained to her.

"Very good, Master Miles," she answered, as calmly as though he had
bidden her serve his supper.  She had implicit faith in her foster-son
in all matters save those appertaining to the care of his health.

"To Mallet then, and wait there.  Is Johnny Dean still living, Nannie?"

"Why, for sure he is, Master Miles, why not?  Shall I take the young
mistress thither?"

"Yes, go to Johnny Dean’s and wait me there."

"But you?  What will you do?" cried Barbara suspiciously.

"Why, Mistress Barbara," he answered, smiling and drawing from his
breast the green silk letter-case found in the Sedgemoor ditch.  "I
purpose to see an these letters will fetch their price."

"But how?  Of whom?"

"Of whom but the man most likely to pay it, my Lord Jeffreys."

"What? you would go there, to him, alone!  Oh, no, no, you must not,
indeed you must not.  ’Tis too rash, ’tis madness.  Better risk all than
that you—you should——  Oh!  Captain Protheroe, we can’t leave you
behind."

Her voice trembled, her eyes were full of tears.  For a moment he
hesitated, gazing at her with surprise, with a faint, wondering hope;
but he shook his head.

"Do not be afraid, Mistress Barbara," he said lightly; "I have faith in
the power of these bits of paper.  Trust me, I’ll join you ere two hours
are passed."

Somewhat comforted by his words, Barbara said no more.  She had learned
to know by his face when he had made up his mind, and recognised that
further argument would but waste time.

When the two women had left the room in search of cloaks, Captain
Protheroe turned abruptly to his companion.

"Look you, Sir Ralph, this is a desperate strait.  You can await me at
Mallet till nine o’clock.  If by that time I have not come, then go
north, make for Listoke, try to get aboard the _Roaring George_.  And,
look you, take these letters (I have made copies of them). If you are
ta’en, get them to Churchill, or, better still, Rochester.  They may
save you yet, even if I fail."

"But, Heavens, man! if you fail it’s death for you. Why not come with
us, and try to win to Holland?  Why go to Jeffreys at all?"

"Because, tho’ a desperate chance, ’tis worth risking. Zounds! man, you
don’t think.  What hope have two women and a man weak with fever of
escaping the royal troops?  Practically none, unless I can buy free
pardons for all and a safe conduct into Holland from Jeffreys."

The women being now ready to set out, Captain Protheroe went with them
to the door at the back of the house, from whence a short labyrinth of
streets led to one of the gates of the town.

There he turned to the girl who stood beside him, her dark eyes gleaming
in the shadow of her hood.  It was a crimson hood and reminded him of
the night he first met her in the country lane at Durford.

"Good-bye, Mistress Barbara," he said wistfully.

A sudden fear awoke in her eyes.

"But you will come after us, you will see me again?" she cried quickly.

"Assuredly, Mistress Barbara," he answered softly; "if there be pity in
Heaven I shall see you again."

She looked at him doubtfully, but urged him no more.

"God keep you," she said gently.

Captain Protheroe watched them disappear in the darkness.  But he failed
to note a dark figure flit from the shadow of a neighbouring house, and
follow them on their way.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*


Chief Justice Jeffreys sat alone in his lodging at Wells.

The long sitting in court was over.  All day he had stormed and bullied,
reducing prisoners and advocates alike, and even his brothers on the
bench, to a state of terrified submission.  He had poured forth abuse on
the heads of timorous witnesses, cracked his jests and thundered his
threats at the miserable victims of the law’s severity.  He had sworn,
wrangled, and blustered, and now he was alone.

The wearying journey, the tedious days of work, the long nights of
carouse, above all the unrestrained passions in which he daily indulged
had conduced to the inevitable result; on his arrival in Wells his
malady had become greatly aggravated, and his physicians had urged on
him the absolute necessity of quiet and abstinence.  Accordingly
to-night he followed their advice; the officers and other jovial
gentlemen who formed his escort feasted apart, and, sick in body, weary
in mind, he sat alone.

And as he sat there in all the luxury of his surroundings, despite his
high position, despite his success, despite his wealth, power, and
influence, ’twould have been hard to find in all the length and breadth
of the kingdom a more wretched man than George Jeffreys, lord chief
justice of England, lord chancellor elect.

For the man was cursed with a double curse, and the burden of his life
seemed at times too heavy to be borne. Cursed with an ambition which
would not let him rest, which ever urged him to new struggles, new
extravagances, new ventures, and contrariwise cursed with a
sensitiveness, a cowardice that made each step in the path of his career
an added terror to his brain, each rough encounter a fresh misery, each
rebuff a stinging agony.

The mainspring of his character was an overweening vanity.  He must be
first of his company, he must, by whatever means offered, rise to the
highest; but on the other hand he could brook no opposition, a taunt or
a rebuke was torture to him, a threat a terror that moved him at times
to tears.  The rebuffs and sneers which to a braver nature appear but
the natural pricks of life, were to him a veritable torment from which
he shrank with all the horror of a keenly sensitive soul. While his
ambitious vanity drove him to assume airs of overweening insolence, to
bully and overawe all who came before him, to delight to see men shrink
and tremble at his words; yet if he met with opposition, his haughty
mien vanished in a burst of childish passion, and if he found his aims
thwarted he became reduced to a state of helpless misery.

Thus his ambition drove him into a struggle with the world, but the very
enmity and hatred naturally evoked were to him the source of misery
unspeakable.

Such was the man who had elected to climb the highest rung of the
ladder.  Verily he paid his price.

As he sat alone, forced no longer to wear his mask, to preserve an air
of proud assurance and command, the reflection of his thoughts played
across his face, and ’twas a bitter tale to read.  His brows frowned in
pain and perplexity, his lips twitched nervously, and in his eyes lurked
a look as of one cowering beneath an ever-present dread.  He leaned
weariedly back in his chair, his hands idly resting on its arms, his
face drawn with suffering.

On the table before him lay many letters from friends of the prisoners
he had recently condemned, heart-rending pleas for mercy, despairing
appeals for a mitigation, however slight, of the agonising sentences he
had pronounced; and among them was a letter from his father, the old man
whom still in spite of all he respected and in his own way loved, a
letter entreating him to show pity in his judgments, threatening to
disown him should he still persist in his bloody methods.  And Jeffreys
himself, save in his outbursts of rage, was not a cruel man, and took
little enough delight in his brutal task. Still he had no choice.  For
the King’s commands had been absolute; no mercy must be shown and the
King’s commands he dared not disobey.

And in addition to these commands, apart from his hope to win by his
zealous service the office of lord chancellor, there was jet another
reason, more poignant than all, why he dared show no mercy to those
associated with the late rebellion; why, if he could have had his own
way, every man who had so much as looked at Duke Monmouth should be put
to death.

For he himself, in one of those sudden fits of alarm which formed the
cause in him of so much double-dealing, had intrigued secretly with
Monmouth, and the haunting fear of discovery had sent him down into the
west like a savage beast of prey, panting to sweep from sight all traces
of rebellion, striving to prove, by the very ferocity of his judgments,
his loyalty to the King and his repugnance of the course of his enemies.
So he was driven, by the very desperation of his ambition, to win for
himself a hatred and contempt that almost broke his heart.

And to-night, as he sat alone, he wondered wearily whether the struggle
was worth the torture it created, and his heart cried to him to give up
the contest, resign his office, and in retirement find rest for his
suffering body, and peace for his weary soul.  So spake his heart, and
he longed for determination to follow its dictates.  Yet he knew too
well the while that peace was not for him, for the curse of Lucifer was
upon him, and so long as there remained power to strive for, or enemies
to overthrow, so long must he struggle on in misery, until death should
bring to him the only rest such as he may ever know.

He was interrupted in his musings by the entrance of his secretary,
Master Stephen Jewars.  Perturbed and anxious the man hurried into the
room, and after a moment’s pause advanced to his master’s side.

"My lord," he began nervously, "there is an officer without, asking to
see your lordship."

Jeffreys moved impatiently.

"Not to-night, Jewars," he said sharply; "I will see no one to-night.
His business will wait."

"Pardon, my lord, even so I answered him, but he declares his business
will not wait.  Moreover, ’tis a matter of the most absolute importance,
so he states, that he see you."

"Devil take you!" cried Jeffreys angrily.  "Why, fellow, have you not
heard the same tale ten thousand times of late?  ’Tis another o’ these
petitioners, I’ll warrant.  I will not see him."

A moment the secretary hesitated.  Then he stooped over his master and
said in a low, cautious tone:

"My lord, it may be I am mistaken, but—methinks the man knows
something."

Jeffreys started.

"What mean you, fellow?" he asked quickly.  "What does he say?"

"Nay, my lord, ’tis mostly by his manner I judge it, for he demands to
see your lordship as tho’ ’tis nought to him yet for your sake ’twere
wise.  And then also his words—for he claims to have information
concerning an intrigue with the late Duke, an intrigue which may not
astonish your lordship as much as most folk, yet ’twill be of greater
moment to your lordship to be the first to hear on’t."

"Tut!" cried Jeffreys nervously.  "Any man might say that."

"Aye, my lord, any man might say it, but an I be any judge of men, this
man hath meaning in his words."

Jeffreys was silent.

"Well, well, Jewars," he said after a pause; "I will see the man.  But
not alone.  You will remain in the room, and look you, have an escort
ready at hand, lest the man must be—lest he prove an impostor."

"Very good, my lord," answered Jewars with a sigh of relief.  "I will
bring him in at once."

Two minutes later he ushered Captain Protheroe into the judge’s
presence.

At sight of his visitor Jeffreys started, and eyeing him sharply for a
moment, rapped out a fierce oath.

"What’s this!" he cried.  "What do you here?  How dare you come here?  I
know you, fellow, I know your face well."

"’Tis possible," answered the other coolly.  "I have been frequently
before your lordship—er—unofficially. I was one of Colonel Kirke’s
officers."

"Truly, you do well to say _was_," shouted Jeffreys angrily.  "I mind
you well, sir.  You are he who was committed at Taunton and who
afterwards escaped.  I have not forgot you, sir."

"Indeed!  I congratulate your lordship upon an excellent memory," was
the cool reply.

"Zounds!  Jewars.  What is the fellow here for?" blustered the judge.
"A condemned rebel!  A traitor! Call in the guard."

"Nay, my lord," interrupted Captain Protheroe quietly.  "I have that to
say to your lordship of the deepest import.  You will do well to hear me
out.  The guard afterwards—an you will."

Jeffreys eyed him, frowning.

"You are a cool fellow," he muttered.  "Have a care, sir, have a care.
Do not trifle with me.  Your life is not worth one——"

"I am aware of that fact, my lord," he interrupted coolly.  "Judge then
whether the business which led me to place myself in your power be
likely to be of import or no.  Indeed, my lord, you will do well to hear
me."

For a moment the judge hesitated, trying to outfrown the officer’s cool
glance, but finding here was a different man from those whom he was
accustomed to bully in the law courts, he submitted with a bad grace to
the demand.

"Well!  Well! say what you desire, sir; but look you, waste no time."

"I have no desire to do so, my lord.  In fact waste of time were more
fatal to me than ever it could be inconvenient to your lordship.
Briefly then, I am here to give your lordship an opportunity of
exercising mercy."

Judge Jeffreys stared for a moment in amazement, then dropped his fist
upon the table with a fierce oath.

"Mercy!  Mercy!" he shouted.  "And have you dared, fellow, to force your
way into my presence, to interrupt my rest, solely to beg for mercy on
your miserable life.  Have you indeed so dared, fellow?"

"My name is Protheroe, since it seems to have escaped your lordship’s
otherwise excellent memory," was the cool reply.  "But indeed I
certainly have not intruded on your seclusion merely to beg so slight a
thing as my pardon.  ’Tis a most wide-reaching exercise of mercy I offer
your lordship, the release of four rebels at least."

Jeffreys sprang to his feet, trembling with fury, and roared out a
torrent of oaths that startled even the accustomed ears of his hearer.
But Captain Protheroe did not change a tittle of his cool, resolute
mien.  He knew his man, and knew well that the only way to master such
as he was to meet insolence with insolence, and rage with cool contempt.

"To the guardhouse with the insolent fellow," shouted Jeffreys, glaring
with passion.  "Away with him!"

"You forget, my lord," shouted the officer, endeavouring vainly to win a
hearing; "I do not come empty-handed, I bring my price."

But the Judge was beside himself with fury, and Captain Protheroe had
hardly escaped immediate arrest, had not the secretary stepped quickly
forward and whispered a few words in his master’s ear.  At first he
could gain no attention, but gradually the storm subsided, the judge’s
fury wavered before the calm indifference of the soldier, and after a
moment’s silence he submitted sulkily to his secretary’s persuasion.

"Well!  Well!  Jewars.  I will hear him," he muttered. "Look you, sir,
say clearly what has brought you here.  You claim to have information to
give. What is it?  What have you to offer?"

"Two letters, my lord."

"Letters!"  The judge started forward, grasping the table with his
hands, his eyes glaring at the officer. "Letters, say you?"

"Aye, my lord," answered the officer nonchalantly. "Certain letters of
your lordship’s own hand, which have come into my possession.  They are,
I venture to believe, a most sufficient guarantee for my trust in your
clemency."

Jeffreys dropped his hands and fell back into his chair, his eyes fixed
on the speaker with horrible intensity. His fingers moved nervously and
his lips twitched. Jewars touched him on the shoulder, and with a start
he recovered himself.

"Show me the letters!" he snarled abruptly.

Captain Protheroe drew the papers from his breast, and handed them
across the table.  He was purposely deliberate in his movements,
revelling in the anxiety of the judge’s face.

There was a dead silence in the room while Judge Jeffreys perused the
letters.  He bent his head low over the paper, therefore his face was
hidden from the officer, who waited breathless for the pronouncement
upon the contents.

At length after a long pause, the judge raised his head.

His face was calm, his voice as usual loud and raucous.

He eyed the officer firmly.

"These"—he said slowly, tapping the papers—"these are forgeries."

A sudden cold chill crept round Captain Protheroe’s heart.  He stared at
the judge in amazement, in slowly rising despair.

"Forgeries, sir," said Jeffreys again coldly.  "Have you no more to
say?"

But even while he spake, Captain Protheroe noted, though the face and
voice were calm, yet the hand which held the letter trembled till the
paper shook like an aspen leaf.  He noted this, and took fresh courage
from the sight.

"Pardon me, my lord," he drawled politely; "not forgeries,
but—er—copies."

The judge glared at him.

"Copies," he cried sharply.  "Then where are the originals!  Show them
to me?"

"Indeed, my lord, you underrate my very high opinion of your
lordship’s—er—ingenuity, if you deem I have brought the originals with
me," answered the captain with the same slow politeness.  "They are in
safe-keeping elsewhere."

Jeffreys swore under his breath.  Then he turned to the officer with a
scornful laugh.

"And you dream, by these letters, you can prove me traitor, eh?" he
asked mockingly.

"Certainly not, my lord, if your lordship can prove your innocence," was
the cool answer.

There was silence.  The two men eyed one another defiantly. Then
Jeffreys laid down the letters, and leaned across the table.

"You are a fool, sir," he said sharply, "an you think to reap any
advantage from these letters.  I tell you the plain truth.  I have
intrigued with Monmouth, but solely that by gaining his confidence, I
might prove of greater assistance to his Majesty."

"Indeed, my lord, I never held so low an opinion of you as to suppose
you would confine your treachery to one party only," answered Captain
Protheroe insolently. But his heart beat quickly, for he liked not the
suggestion in the judge’s words.

"Have a care, sir," shouted Jeffreys angrily. "Recollect you are in my
power."

"With reservations, my lord.  For, if I join not my friends within two
hours, the originals of these letters will, before to-morrow night, be
in the hands of one likely to take a deeper interest in the matter than
your lordship seems to do."

"Devil damn you, fellow!  Have I not told you wherefore these letters
were writ?"

"You have.  For your lordship’s sake I trust others may place more
credence in your story than I do myself."

"What!  Do you dream his Majesty will believe there is one word of truth
in your story if I deny it?  Your letters are powerless to destroy me.
Heavens, man, do you suppose his Majesty would disgrace me on such
evidence?  I tell you, sir, I am as necessary to him as his crown."

"My lord, you yourself undoubtedly are the best judge as to what extent
his Majesty finds your services a necessity.  But ’tis said he is easily
suspicious, and ’twill not be the first time such accusations have been
brought."

Jeffreys winced at the suggestion.

Captain Protheroe continued quietly:

"But ’tis not to his Majesty the papers would be delivered.  He is the
head of the kingdom, but by no means the only power therein.  It might
be, my lord, that the accusation once brought, he would be powerless to
save you."

"What do you mean?" snarled the judge.

"I think, my lord, ’twas his late Majesty who remarked that your
lordship was not ’parliament-proof.’"

Jeffreys started back and glanced uneasily at the speaker.

"Parliament," continued the officer slowly, "is indeed almost entirely
Tory, but yet, as your lordship has good reason to know, it hath no
great love for your person. There may not be many honest men among the
members, but ’tis certain there are many cowards, and cowards will not
brook traitors.  If this accusation be brought forward it will not be
lightly set aside, And it should not be necessary for me to remind your
lordship that you have many enemies in the House."

Jeffreys sat silent, gnawing his nails, and gazing moodily on the
ground.

After a pause Captain Protheroe continued with rising courage.

"Now, my lord, should these letters fall into the hands of the Duke of
Rochester for example."

Jeffreys started to his feet with a sudden wild cry.

"Your price, man, your price?" he shouted fiercely. Then he sank down
again and leaned his head wearily upon his hand.

Captain Protheroe’s eyes flashed with triumph.

"My price!" he cried eagerly.  "My lord, I might ask much, but I
refrain.  All I demand is a free pardon for four rebels, Mistress
Barbara Winslow, Sir Rupert Winslow, Sir Ralph Trevellyan, and myself.
That is my price, and no dear one for such evidence as this."

"Pardons!  Pardons!" cried Jeffreys testily; "what have I to do with
pardons?  ’Tis his Majesty alone who can grant such."

"Truly, my lord," answered the officer politely; "yet knowing the great
confidence his Majesty places in your lordship, I venture to believe you
will find no great difficulty in procuring what I demand.  In the
meantime I will content myself with a safe pass to Holland for myself
and my companions."

A sudden light gleamed in the judge’s eyes.  Drawing towards him ink and
paper he wrote the necessary orders, signed and sealed them and laid
them on the table beside him.

"That will serve your purpose, sir," he said quietly. "My secretary will
now accompany you to fetch the originals of the letters; on your return
with them this passport shall be delivered to you."

Captain Protheroe laughed quickly.

Then he turned to Jeffreys with an air of deep reproach.

"Alas! my lord," he cried, "you do indeed underrate my opinion of your
ability; moreover, I fear, you take me for a fool.  No, no, my lord;
that plan likes me not."

Judge Jeffreys started up with an oath, and made a movement to tear the
paper in pieces.  Captain Protheroe stopped him sharply.

"Hearken, my lord," he said sternly, "you will hand that pass to me now,
you will take no steps to interfere with our departure, and you will at
once apply yourself to obtain the pardons I demand.  If money be
required to win them I doubt not your lordship has sufficient to meet
all expenses.  In the meantime I and my friends will ride in safety to
the coast, stopping a night or so at Durford Manor house——"

"Durford," cried Jeffreys sharply, "what would you at Durford?"

"Er—a small matter of an old gold brocade, I believe," answered Captain
Protheroe, with a little smile of reminiscence.  "From there we will
take ship and sail for Holland.  On the day your lordship procures our
pardons, the letters you require shall be delivered into your hands."

"And if I refuse?"

"Refuse! why, then, as I have already explained, the letters have
another destination.  His Majesty, I believe, has now left Winchester,
but the Duke——"

"I should at least soon see you hanged," interrupted Jeffreys furiously.

"I believe you, my lord," answered the captain drily; "but I do not
anticipate I should have long to wait before your lordship followed me."

There was a pause.  Then Jeffreys continued testily.

"What assurance have I these letters will be delivered to me?"

"My word."

"Pah!  What faith put you in my word that you should have your pass?"

"None whatever! but the parallel is hardly just.  I am a man of honour.
That is one of the few titles to which your lordship has never aspired."
Then he continued sharply, "Come, my lord, there is no time to lose; I
beg you to come to a decision.  I will not insult your intellect by
repeating the facts of the case. Briefly, the matter runs thus: Whose
head do you count of greatest value, mine or your lordship’s?"

There was a full minute’s silence.  Then without a word Jeffreys picked
up the passport and handed it to the officer.

"Ah, my lord!  I thought I should not be mistaken in your answer," said
the captain coolly.  "I need not impress upon you the advisability of
doing all in your power to facilitate our safe journey.  Our interests
will doubtless be dear to you as—as your own neck. My lord, I bid you
good-evening."

The judge made no answer.  He leaned wearily back in his chair, staring
moodily before him.  Behind him stood the secretary, silent, immovable,
but with an expression of deepest relief upon his face.  Captain
Protheroe turned on his heel, and strode across the room, but scarcely
had he reached the door when it was opened suddenly from without, and he
found himself face to face with Colonel Kirke.

Both men gave a sharp exclamation of astonishment and sprang back.  Then
the colonel with a sudden quick movement stepped into the room, shut the
door, and set his back against it.

For a moment all was still, the two stared at each other in dead
silence, measuring glances of hatred and contempt.  Then Jeffreys rose
from his chair and stepped quickly forward.

"What do you want, colonel?" he asked hoarsely.

Kirke turned abruptly to the judge.

"What is this man doing here, my lord?" he demanded sharply.

Jeffreys moved nervously.

"Captain Protheroe is about to start upon a mission to Holland, at my
direction," he answered nervously.

"But, my lord, have you forgot? this fellow is an escaped rebel,
committed for treason."

"I know, colonel.  But he is pardoned."

"Pardoned!  By whom?  For what reason?"

"In return for information received," answered Jeffreys quickly.

"Hell-fire!  That he is not!" shouted the colonel fiercely.  "I know
you, Jeffreys, you’ve made your money out of him, and now you would let
him go. But, by Heaven! an you do, I’ll noise it abroad till all London
hear on’t.  And you know, none better, his Majesty’s commands concerning
these rebels, not one is to escape.  Pardoned!  Now, by the light of the
Prophet’s beard, the man is a traitor and shall hang e’en if I had to do
it with my own hands.  Pardoned! Pah!  The man shall hang as sure as my
name is Percy Kirke."

He ceased, and there was another silence.  Captain Protheroe loosened in
its sheath the sword he earned and glanced rapidly round the room.  He
turned to the chief justice, but no further help showed there.  Jeffreys
had sunk back in his chair, and looked the picture of helpless dismay.
The man was a mass of nerves, sensitive as a girl; he trembled under
Colonel Kirke’s fierce attack, and had no words with which to defend
himself.

"Do you understand me, Jeffreys?" the colonel again shouted.  "By
Heaven, I’ll publish the facts."

"My lord," interposed Captain Protheroe quietly, "’tis but a night’s
ride to Winchester."

Jeffreys looked from one to the other hopelessly calculating his chances
with a desperate cunning.

"Tut, colonel," he began nervously; "what is the man to you?  Let him——"

He was interrupted by a sudden knock at the door, and the entrance of an
orderly.

"A messenger from London, my lord," he said.

He marched across to the chief justice, and handed him a packet, then
saluting, turned and left the room.

Partly with the idea of gaining time, partly with a faint hope of there
finding a way out of his difficulty, Jeffreys broke open the packet and
began to read. Colonel Kirke stood silent, watching him angrily, but
Captain Protheroe glanced hurriedly up and down the room, puzzling his
wits to devise some method of escape.

Suddenly the chief justice started to his feet and turned to the
colonel.  There was a look of excitement on his face, and triumph in his
eyes.

"Colonel Kirke," he exclaimed harshly, "you are recalled to London!"

With clenched hands and blazing eyes Kirke turned on Jeffreys.

"Recalled!  I!  What in the devil’s name do you mean?"

"Here are your orders.  The regiment will proceed there in the course of
a week.  You are to set out immediately."

Kirke stared at the paper in amazement; then he threw it to the ground
and stamped on it in a sudden fury. "Recalled!  Disgraced!  Bah!  Have
you had a hand in this, Jeffreys?  Recalled!  Now, by——"  He roared out
a torrent of oaths.

Presently he grew calmer, picked up the paper, read it once more, and
locked moodily at the chief justice.

"I must set out at once," he muttered.  "But look you, Jeffreys, a word
of warning; this is but a passing affair, the work o’ that meddlesome
Sunderland, I’ll be bound.  I shall soon return, so be careful what you
do. I’ve set my heart on this matter"—pointing to the captain.  "When I
return, an that fellow be not handed over to me for court-martial, then,
by all the devils in heaven and hell, I’ll be revenged.  You know me,
Jeffreys, and you know what I can do.  Take warning."

He swung to the door, then pausing, turned to Captain Protheroe, and
eyed him with a scornful glance.

"A narrow shave for you," he said; "but I’ll hope to see you hanged yet,
my fine fellow."

Captain Protheroe smiled scornfully.

"I’m afraid, colonel," he answered drily, "unless our executions take
place simultaneously on the same spot, we can’t both realise our mutual
hope."

With an oath Colonel Kirke swung out of the room, and the door was shut.
Then Captain Protheroe turned to Jeffreys.  The judge’s face was a study
of indecision. He stared moodily at the letters before him, he glanced
nervously at the door through which the colonel had retired.  He was a
man standing betwixt two abysses, doubting over which to risk a jump.
At last he raised his head, and faced the captain defiantly.

"Captain Protheroe," he said, "I must withdraw your passport and place
you under arrest."

Captain Protheroe stared at the judge in dismay.  The secretary took a
rapid step forward, and stooped over his master’s chair.

"My lord," he whispered, "think what you do.  These letters——"

"I know!  I know!" cried Jeffreys testily; "but I also know Kirke.  ’Tis
one or the other, and Kirke is not a man to deny."

Again the secretary stooped to argue, but Jeffreys thrust him aside.

"No, no, Jewars, I tell you ’tis the safer way.  This is the only
evidence"—tapping the letters—"and it may be disproved."

Then, with a sudden inspiration Captain Protheroe stepped forward, and
leaning over the table, fixed his eyes on Jeffreys.

"The only evidence, my lord?" he asked quietly. "Tell me, has your
lordship ever heard of a certain Master Hugh Peters, of Lime?"

"Peters!" gasped the secretary, with a sudden start of horror.

"Aye," answered the officer slowly.  "A worthy man who can give much
valuable information concerning the manner of Ferguson’s escape, about
which there has been so great a pother in London.  And, my lord, he is
not the only man who knows the secret."

With a sudden cry the secretary caught the chief justice’s arm; his face
was livid, he trembled from head to foot.

"My lord," he cried, "there is no help for it, this man must go.  There
is no safety else.  He knows—Heavens! what does he not know?  My lord,
Colonel Kirke may be dangerous, but he is disgraced, and he hath but
little evidence, and ’tis but a matter of bribery after all.  But this
man—oh, my lord! let him go, out of the country with him, and Heaven
grant we may never see him more."

Jeffreys turned and stared at the terrified man, and slowly the fear
passed into his own heart.  Fiercely he clutched the arms of his chair,
his eyes rolled, he moved his head from side to side, as one hounded to
death, and seeing no escape.  Then with a loud cry of rage and despair,
he sprang to his feet, and pointed wildly to the door.

"Go!" he cried.  "Go!  You are free!  But have a care.  For an you come
within my power again, by God! you shall pay for this.  You shall die a
thousand times; at the cart-tail, at the post, at the gallows, at the
stake.  You shall feel a thousand torments, till hell itself shall show
more merciful.  I will——"

"Silence!" shouted the captain sternly.  "Peace, fool, I will hear no
more o’ such vapourings.  I go now, but first, mark you this, my Lord
Jeffreys, see to it you carry out our contract to the smallest detail,
for should harm befall me and mine thro’ your doing, I vow to heaven, my
lord, I will not hang alone.  So, an you value your own neck, leave us
in peace."

For one moment Jeffreys stood gasping open-mouthed, gazing at the
speaker in a fury of impotent rage, then he suddenly collapsed and
sinking into his chair, he fell forward across the table and burst into
bitter tears.

But Captain Protheroe waited no longer, but tucking the passport into
his breast, proceeded calmly to the street.  Nor did he pause until he
had passed out of the north gate and left the town behind him.

"Phew!" he muttered, wiping his forehead, "I’ve played high in my time,
but never for such stakes as these.  Heaven help me! what a hand I held,
and God forgive me, but how I played it!"



                             *CHAPTER XXII*


Captain Protheroe walked on rapidly across the dark field-path which led
to the little hamlet of Mallet.  It was already late, and he did not
wish to keep his friends in suspense longer than was needful.

Suddenly he paused, as he became aware of a confused clamour of sounds
proceeding from the direction in which, he was going, but only for a
moment, then with a sudden misgiving he commenced to run rapidly forward
through the darkness.

The cottage where the fugitives were to await him lay on the outskirts
of the hamlet, separated from the cluster of other cottages by some
fields, and the sounds, now becoming more distinct, came from that
direction.

A confused murmur of voices met his ears, punctuated by a succession of
heavy blows of musket-butts (so he rightly guessed) upon the cottage
door; then followed the crash of a door falling, more shouting, above
which he could distinguish a voice raised loud in authority, and then
the clash of two encountering swords.

A moment later he reached the gateway of the croft within which the
cottage stood.

There he found a group of peasants, held in check, in spite of much
shouting and menacing gestures, by a small body of mounted troopers.
Nearer the cottage were some unmounted men, those evidently who had been
responsible for the attack upon the door, one or two of whom carried
lanterns, and by the combined light this afforded, and that which
streamed from the dismantled doorway, there was revealed to Captain
Protheroe the incident which formed the central feature of the picture.

At the doorway of the cottage two men were fighting. The swordsman with
his back to the doorway was Sir Ralph.  With white set face, and his
breath coming in quick gasps, ’twas clear he was sore pressed, and
wellnigh spent.

His opponent, who was slowly but surely driving him to retreat into the
passage-way, was a small, dapper little man, in the uniform of an
officer of the King’s troops.  He fought with a cool precision, and ever
and anon as the fight proceeded, he exclaimed admiringly:

"Well thrust, sir, well indeed.  Keep back, men, let be.  ’Tis a fair
fight."

For a few moments Captain Protheroe stood in amazement, watching this
extraordinary scene, then suddenly realising that unless he quickly
intervened Ralph must be overcome, he thrust his way past the startled
troopers, and ere they could prevent him, seized the little officer
round the middle and lifted him aside.

The latter, with an exclamation of anger, wrenched himself free, and
turned upon the intruder.

"And by what right, sir——" he began furiously; but ere he could get
further in his speech his hand was seized in a hearty grasp, and Captain
Protheroe broke out eagerly:

"Harrington!  Will!  You!  By all the powers, but luck is with us
wherever we go.  This is splendid."

"Miles Protheroe!" cried the little man in delight, but restraining
himself suddenly, he stared hard at the captain.  "What are you doing
here, Protheroe?" he asked sharply.  "D—— me, I had forgot, you are a
rebel, too."

But the other’s light laugh quickly reassured him.

"No more a rebel than are these, my friends, here," he cried cheerily.
"Look"—and he handed his passport to Harrington—"that is all right,
isn’t it?  By Jove! what a mercy I arrived in time; you were about to
make a pretty mess of things, Will."

"Plague take that meddlesome pedlar, who brought us out with such a
cock-and-bull story as this," cried the little officer indignantly.
"Here have I been forced to put your friends—and a lady, too—to most
distressing inconvenience and—er—danger, and all to no purpose.  Alas!
I doubt she will never forgive me. Plague on the fellow! where is he?"

But the pedlar, who had followed them to the cottage, and having given
information had then served as guide to the patrol, was not to be found.
He was quick to appreciate that the game again had gone against and had
vanished into the night.

"But what were you after when I arrived, Will?" asked Captain Protheroe
with a laugh.

"This gentleman thought fit to hold the doorway, against me.  I—I
was—-er—about to remove him."

Then he turned politely to Ralph, who had sunk wearily into a seat
within the doorway, whence he smiled faintly up at Barbara as she came
anxiously from an adjoining room to his side, to ascertain whether he
had received any hurt.

"I must apologise, sir," he said with grave politeness, "for so rudely
forcing myself upon your company. ’Twas a misconception, which I trust
you will pardon.  But I fear I can never hope the lady will be equally
forgiving."

Barbara looked up with a bright smile.

"Indeed, sir," she said softly, "we should rather be grateful to you,
for the generous manner in which you conducted the attack.  We owe you
thanks for your courtesy in staying your men from firing upon the house
when you discovered I was here, and for your chivalry in insisting upon
fighting Sir Ralph single-handed."

The little man flushed with pleasure.

"Faith! madame," he cried gallantly; "’twas nothing. However hard
pressed a man may be, nothing would excuse discourtesy to a lady.  And
for the rest, ’twas a most enjoyable fight whose interruption is
condoned only by the acquaintance thus created."

Captain Protheroe laughed lightly.

"Zounds!  Will, what would the colonel say to your new methods of rebel
hunting, eh?  He is ever the same, Mistress Barbara; he rides the
country with a cumbersome escort, yet doth all the work himself."

Captain Harrington again turned to his recent adversary, who still
leaned back, with half-closed eyes.

"I trust, sir," he said anxiously, "I have not been so excessively
clumsy as to wound you in our affray.  ’Tis a thing I never do, unless
mortally."

Ralph smiled faintly.

"Rest assured, sir, your hand is still sure."

"Sir Ralph Trevellyan is but recovering from a fever," interposed
Barbara gently; "the encounter hath exhausted him."

"I am well enough, Barbara," exclaimed Ralph, struggling to his feet.

"Indeed, you are not," she answered firmly.  "Sit still while I fetch
some water."

But now Captain Harrington was all contrition.  He flew for water, he
sent his men for wine.  He hovered over Barbara with most assiduous
attentions, while she ministered to her exhausted companion.

"What may I do now?" implored the little officer, when Barbara had
finished her task; "what may I do to further atone for my mistake?
Where are you bound for now, eh?"

"We are on our road to Durford; it lies north of Taunton, you know; but
we can hardly set out to-night. Is there any place hereabouts fit to
spend the night in?" asked Captain Protheroe doubtfully.

"My quarters are but five minutes’ distance from here," cried Captain
Harrington eagerly; "if I dared hope to be so greatly honoured."

"Oh, no," cried Barbara quickly; "indeed, we cannot take your rooms."

"Alack! madame, I feared ’twas too great an honour to hope for," sighed
the little man mournfully.  "After my error, too.  And yet, if it might
have been——"

"Nay, sir," interposed Barbara, somewhat puzzled how to meet such
unexpected humility.  "If you will indeed be so generous——"

"It will be the best thing we can do," interposed Captain Protheroe.
"And to-morrow, perchance, you can lend us mounts as far as Durford."

"Willingly, willingly," was the eager reply.

"Then let us be off.  Where is Nannie?"

"I’m here, Master Miles," answered the old lady, calmly entering from
the adjoining room where she had been soothing the terror of the
bed-ridden owner of the cottage.

"Ah! that’s well.  We must be moving.  Set the old fellow’s mind at ease
and come along.  You shall come back to him to-morrow, an you choose."

All was quiet when they came out of the cottage.

"Straight along that path, Miles!" cried Captain Harrington eagerly,
pointing out the direction; "you can’t miss the way.  I will escort the
lady."

"Not so," answered Captain Protheroe resolutely, putting Barbara’s cloak
about her; "I will escort Mistress Barbara.  You can best lead the way."

Captain Harrington glanced for a moment at the speaker, then with a deep
sigh, and a mournful shake of the head, he shrugged his shoulders, and
taking Ralph’s arm, turned along the path towards the village.

"Alack!" he muttered to himself, "Alack!  The early bird!"

"Mistress Barbara," pleaded Captain Protheroe, as they followed the
others along the narrow way, "Mistress Barbara, you have not said one
word to me since I arrived."

"I had nothing to say," she answered, smiling.  Then she added softly,
"I knew you would come."

And with that he strove to be content.



                            *CHAPTER XXIII*


Next day they rode merrily to Durford.  At early morning they set out,
when the white mist curled in the valley, and the russet trees,
sun-kissed on the hills, gleamed like fiery tongues of flame above a
silver sea; through the bright noonday they rode, when the mists like
evil witches of the night had vanished before the sunbeams, the broad
earth lay smiling up into the deep blue heavens, and the myriad
creatures of earth and sky raised their tiny voices in harmonious _Te
Deum_ for the glory of life.  Through a world of joy and sunshine they
rode, until early in the afternoon they climbed the last hill and saw in
the valley below the red-roofed cottages of the village and the tall
grey chimneys of the Manor House hiding among the burnished leaves.

And from that point their ride was a royal progress.

Like lightning the news spread about the village that Mistress Barbara
was come home.  Cottage doors were flung open, women and children rushed
headlong into the street to meet her.  They crowded round her to kiss
her hands, to shower greetings upon her; the women wept, like the
foolish creatures they are; all the village was agog with joy.  And
Barbara, with shining eyes, laughed and waved her hand, and rode through
them like a queen.  At length they reached the park gates, and there was
Cicely, her ribbons streaming in the wind, her hands outstretched in
eager welcome, running full-pace to meet them.

Barbara leapt from her saddle, and with a sudden queer little sob rushed
into her cousin’s arms.

There they stood crying and kissing, while the villagers flung up their
caps and laughed with delight, and the bells broke out into a wild peal
of music because Barbara Winslow was come home.

Presently Cicely released Barbara and ran towards Ralph with a world of
delighted greeting in her face, and as she took his hands her eyes fell
on Captain Protheroe.  For a moment she stared at him as one amazed, and
then slowly the first bright joy died in her face, her cheeks flushed
crimson, and her eyes filled with misery and shame.  Yet he, guessing
nought, wondered at her glance, and felt himself unwelcome.

But Barbara saw nothing, her joy to be home again filled all her
thoughts.  She seized her cousin’s arm, and broke into an eager chatter
of explanations, rejoicings and questionings, till Cicely was fain to
laugh in sheer bewilderment.

"Softly, softly, Bab," she cried; "I must have it all from the
beginning.  Come in, and tell me all.  You are safe, and you are here,
and that is all I care."

And so, Barbara, waving farewell to her followers, came at last to the
house, and the tale was told.

Some hours later Captain Protheroe was alone in the large hall of the
Manor House.  Explanations had been given, questions answered; the
excitement in the village had died away, and all was still and peaceful,
with the sweet peace of a September evening.

He had been for some time alone.

Ralph, yielding to Barbara’s insistence, had retired for a rest after
his long ride, and the two cousins had early slipped away together to
revel in a long talk.

He sat in one of the deep window-seats, gazing idly at the fading glows
of the sunset, dreaming of the night when he had last stood there and
struggled against the influence of the girl, who now was all the world
to him.  And as he looked back and thought on all she had been to him
since that night, he wished with all his heart that Time would turn his
hour-glass, and let him live those days again.  Nay, give him back but
three sweet hours again, and he would be content to endure even
banishment from her side, with such a memory to soothe his pain.  So he
mused, concerned not that to many the shadow indeed proves dearer than
the substance, nor that he whose memories are tender Is ofttimes happier
than he who in the attainment loses the remembrance forever.

He was disturbed in his dreaming by the sound of his own name cried
softly, and, turning, he found Lady Cicely standing close beside him,
her hands tightly clasped, her head half turned away.

"Captain Protheroe," she said in a strained voice; "I—I have somewhat to
say to you."

"To me?" he asked wonderingly.  Then catching sudden sight of her face,
he started back.  "In heaven’s name, Lady Cicely, what is it?" he cried.
"Is Mistress Barbara——"

"Oh!  Barbara is well," interrupted the lady quickly, with the faintest
attempt at a smile.  "’Tis of yourself I must speak, yourself and me."

He placed a chair for her, then took up his position opposite, leaning
against the window frame, and looking down on her in wonderment.

Then, seeing she hesitated to speak, he asked gravely:

"In what have I been so unfortunate as to offend your ladyship?"

She glanced up in distress.

"Oh! ’tis not that.  ’Tis I who have offended you.  I have done you
grievous wrong.’

"Done me wrong, madame?" he asked, smiling down at her, marvelling at
the small troubles with which women love to torment their minds.  "Nay,
an it be so, madame, ’tis forgiven.  Prithee, think no more on’t."

"Oh! but I must," she cried wildly; "I have thought on it day and night
since ’twas committed; thought on it every moment till I felt I must go
mad an I could not see you to confess to’t."

"Nay, madame, indeed it was not worth your thought, whatever it be," he
answered gallantly.  "That you have given me place in your gentle
thoughts should be sufficient atonement."

But she, covering her face, burst on a sudden into bitter weeping.

"Oh, do not talk so!" she cried.  "You do not know. You do not know."

His face grew grave.  He took a step forward and leaned over her in deep
distress.

"Nay, madame, I entreat you."  he said gently; "indeed, you must not
weep for such a thing.  Come"—he coaxed lightly—"what is this grievous
wrong? Why, you could scarce be more distressed had you betrayed me."

Then she dropped her hands and faced him.

"You have said it," she cried in a dry voice; "’twas indeed I who
betrayed you."

He started from her and stood upright, looking down on her in amazement,
in slowly gathering wrath.

"’Tis true," she sobbed; "I betrayed you to my Lord Jeffreys."

"You did?"

"Yes.  I—came even from so doing when I met you—that night in Taunton."

"That night!  And yet, madame, having done so, you allowed me to go on,
without word of warning, into the trap which you yourself had set?"

His face was in the shadow, but she trembled at the suppressed anger in
his tone.

"Is this true, madame?" he continued sharply.

She had no answer save a sob.

"And may I ask," he continued presently in the same stern tone, "may I
ask your reason for—er—taking such an active interest in my affairs?"

"I—I deemed you had betrayed Barbara," she answered timidly.

"Your suspicion was as unjust as your revenge," he cried angrily.  Then
he checked himself, and presently continued coldly, "Your pardon,
madame, I forgot myself.  I believe,"—he drawled with a slight sneer—"in
affairs of honour, ’tis not—customary to judge women by the standard
usually applied to men."

Cicely winced at his words, but sobbed on helplessly, making no attempt
to defend herself.  Captain Protheroe walked slowly to the far end of
the room and having partially mastered his anger, slowly returned to her
side.

"Come, madame," he said sharply, "there is no need to weep more about
the matter.  The thing is done; there is an end on’t."

"I—I did it for Barbara," she sobbed, stung by his tone to seek for some
self-justification.

"Ah!"  His tone was startled, questioning.

"Your life was to be the price of her freedom."

"Her freedom!"

"Yes.  But, fool that I was, as well as traitor, they took my
information and cheated me of the reward."

She burst into a fresh passion of sobs.

But now all trace of anger had left his face, he was eager, glad.

"But, Lady Cicely," he cried, "this is, indeed, a different matter; I
had misunderstood.  You were justified, perfectly.  What a villain I was
to doubt you. Madame, can you ever forgive me?"

Cicely stared at him in amazement.

"Nay, sir, I see no difference.  Your words were just."

"Just! madame, they were shameful, infamous!  I cannot hope to win your
pardon for them.  Why, Lady Cicely," he continued with boyish eagerness,
"I am grateful to you for your action, most grateful.  I count it the
highest honour to have been privileged to serve Mistress Barbara, for,"
he added softly, "I would gladly die a thousand deaths to shield her
from pain. I beseech you, madame, be comforted.  ’Twas no betrayal, I
was a most willing victim at the sacrifice."

But though she smiled faintly Cicely still wept.

"Ah! ’tis kind to say so," she cried, shaking her head, "But for me—for
me who betrayed you!  What respect, what honour have I left me?"

"Ah! madame, would my tongue had been cut out ere ever I spake those
words," he cried miserably.

"Nay, the words were nought.  But the deed!  The deed remains the same.
What must you think of me? Nay, what must I think of myself?"

Bitterly she wept, and he looked down on her in helpless despair.

Then he bent over her tenderly, and gently took her hand.

"Lady Cicely," he said softly, "what would you think of me, had I
betrayed you to save Sir Rupert?"

"Ah!"  Her sobs were arrested.  She looked at him a moment, then gave a
long sigh of slow-dawning comprehension.

"Yes, madame!  Would you look upon me as worthy your contempt?  Would
you not rather be glad?"

"Yes!  Yes!" she whispered eagerly.

"And for the rest," he continued gently, "’tis well enow, for Colonel
Lovelace to write that love be little if honour be not more, yet there
may be a love so self-forgetting that a man counts himself as nothing in
comparison with it, and would gladly give his dearest part, even his
honour, to serve his beloved.  ’Twas with such a love, Lady Cicely, you
loved your cousin, and by Heaven! she is worthy of it."

Cicely smiled and shook her head.

"These be somewhat indiscreet doctrines, sir," she said.

"Nay, madame, when was love noted for discretion?" he answered, smiling
at her.  "And, moreover, if your act were a betrayal, ’twas a right
courageous one.  I warrant me, ’twas no easy task for you, madame, to
play the traitor."

She looked at him gratefully.

"How is it you understand so well?" she asked.

"I’ faith, Lady Cicely," he answered with a sudden smile, "I fear me my
record is not overclean.  Not a month since, in this very room, I
entered into a bargain, hardly consistent with my honour."

"And that, too, was for Barbara," she murmured softly.

"Even so.  She has required much of us, has she not?" he continued,
smiling.  "Yet whoso is greatly loved, to her must much be given."

"And you do not regret it?"

"Regret, madame?"

"It hath cost you much."

"Maybe, but it has won me more."  Then he added, half to himself, "For
whatsoever befall me now, in this world or the next, I have at least had
my hour of heaven."

There was a silence, broken only by Barbara’s voice, singing in the room
above.

Cicely rose to her feet.

"She is coming, we must go to supper."

Then she turned and laid her hand upon his arm—"You have been so good to
me, Captain Protheroe," she said gently.  "And what I may do in return,
I gladly will.  You love Barbara!  Ah!  I could tell you so much, so
much, for who knows so well as a woman how women may be wooed.  Could a
man but have that knowledge, he might win every maid in Christendom.
Therefore"—she smiled—"perchance ’tis better withheld.  And for this
present matter—certes! methinks you are doing very fairly well for
yourself.  Only remember ’Woman loveth a bold wooer.’  Let there be no
despair.  More love is lost by want of hope than ever was won by
diffidence."

"Alas!  Lady Cicely!  How can a man such as I hope greatly to succeed?"

"Tut, sir, we women are for the most part easy of credence.  An a man
tell us oft enough and resolutely enough that we need him, we needs must
be convinced at last."

"Indeed, Lady Cicely, you give me hope.  If ’twas e’en thus Sir Rupert
won you——"

"Rupert!" she laughed; "nay, sir, ’twas of ordinary mortals I spoke.
There was small need for Rupert to assure me that I loved him.  But
come, we must to supper."

She led him to the adjoining room where Ralph already awaited them.

And presently Barbara came down and joined them there.  She was attired
in an amber brocade, and wore her jewels; her hair towered high in a
mass of wavy curls.  After ten days of vagabondage she revelled in the
luxury of an exquisite toilet, and every detail of her appearance was
perfect.

Captain Protheroe had seen her in many garbs, in many phases, but never
before had she seemed so queenly, so alluring, so worthy of a man’s
absolute homage, and as they looked upon her, each man gave a gasp of
hopeless adoration.

She was in the highest spirits, glowing with happiness, yet wearing
withal a certain air of gracious dignity, which suited well the mistress
of the Manor.

The two men feasted their eyes upon her face, hung upon her words.  And
to each she talked with equal friendliness and vivacity.  But Cicely,
who watched her closely, noted that in her manner toward Ralph there
lurked a certain tenderness, of pity or remorse, while towards Captain
Protheroe she seemed more distant, more reserved.  And though she met
Ralph’s looks of admiration with a merry open smile, yet when she raised
her eyes to Captain Protheroe, and read the worship in his glance, she
blushed faintly and the lashes quickly fell.  So noted Cicely, and
learned her cousin’s secret from her face.

Yet from the men these signs were hidden, alternately they hoped, and
then they despaired.  Only as they felt the power of her presence, his
passion cried to each to win her spite of all, and they trembled at the
fascination of her beauty.

There was much to talk of during the meal, for Cicely would hear each
detail of their adventures, and on her side related all she knew of
Robert Wilcox’s part in the affair.

"I would I could see him to thank him," said Barbara; "’tis a courageous
youth.  And I fear I was—er—somewhat curt when last we parted."

"More than curt, Mistress Barbara," answered the Captain, smiling; "some
might even say exceedingly obstinate.  We were well-nigh reduced to
desperate measures, Lady Cicely, to bend her to our will."

Barbara laughed.

"I am glad you did not so far forget yourselves," she cried saucily;
"but I trust no harm hath befallen good Master Lane on my account, Cis."

"No, he is safe, and in ignorance of the share he had in the matter, for
so I advised.  He is so stout a royalist, so well-known and honoured by
the governor, and all the Tory gentlemen of the district, that upon his
denial of any complicity in the matter, he was honourably acquitted, and
the inquiry dropped.  ’Tis true, some do say that money changed hands
ere the incident was closed, but an it be so we will make it up to him
anon. He is safe, and the escape remains a mystery."

"I warrant me the fiery-headed youth passed one or two anxious days
while the inquiry was pending," remarked Captain Protheroe, smiling.

"Nay, neither he nor Prue are wont to expect trouble before it comes;
they were so triumphant over their success they thought but little of
possible consequences. And I doubt not Robert found ample reward at his
mistress’s hands."

"’Tis pity so brave and adroit a lad is not a soldier," said Barbara.

"Aye, so says Prue.  And indeed ’tis his own desire."

"Would we could help him to his wish."

"He shall be helped," answered the captain quickly; "an you take
interest in his fate, Mistress Barbara. When I get the command I expect,
in Holland, I will send for him, and see to his advancement with all my
heart."

Barbara repaid, with a grateful glance, this ready offer to fulfil her
wish, and so the matter was decided.

They sat long over their meal, talking over what had befallen them in
their wanderings, discussing plans for their future, wondering on the
life that awaited them abroad.

At length, when the evening was far advanced, Barbara pushed back her
chair and cried to her cousin that ’twas time for rest.  But ere she
rose she filled her glass and looked up with a merry smile.

"Come!" she cried, "here we sit together safe after all our troubles,
and it seems ’tis occasion for a toast, and yet I know not exactly what
it should be."

"May I not give the toast, madame?" asked the captain gravely.

"Certes, an you will.  I feel I must drink to something."

"Nay, you must not join in this," he answered with a smile.  Then
springing to his feet and raising his glass, he turned and faced her
boldly:

"What think you of this toast, Sir Ralph?" he cried: "I drink to the
bravest comrade in misfortune, the sweetest companion in peace, and at
all times the most courageous of women——"

"Barbara Winslow!"

Ralph sprang to his feet, and for a moment the two men stood together,
their glasses raised aloft, looking down with adoration where she sat
blushing and laughing in all the pride of her beauty.  Then crying her
name again, they drank the toast, and with a simultaneous impulse turned
and dashed their glasses against the wainscot, so that the shining
fragments fell like showers upon the floor.

The moment of enthusiasm passed, the two men turned sharply and glared
at one another, with a silent challenge in their eyes.

Cicely saw the look and trembled, and deeming it wisdom at once to
remove this apple of discord from the feast, she rose quickly, and
smiling good-night to her companions, carried her cousin off to bed.

When they were left together the two men seated themselves at the table,
but there was a silence between them, and a shadow brooded over the
room.

At length Ralph pushed aside his glass, and leant across the table
towards his companion with the air of one who has determined on his
course.

"Whither are you bound now, Protheroe?" he began. "What are your plans?"

Captain Protheroe hesitated a moment.

"There is no chance for me in England yet," he said slowly, "though
General Churchill would give me his help.  But there is no room in the
army for Kirke and myself—at present.  No, I shall to Holland, I have a
cousin there already, and take service with the Prince of Orange, he is
a man to be served."

There was a moment’s pause.  Then Ralph continued with a would-be
careless air.

"Doubtless you will set off to-morrow.  I will escort Mistress Barbara
to her brother, and we need—er—burden you with our company no longer."

Captain Protheroe stared for a moment at his companion.

"For the present," he answered coldly, "my way lies with yours."

Ralph eyed him angrily.

"Pardon me, sir, but in Mistress Barbara’s interests, it were wiser you
should leave her, now your company is no longer necessary to her
safety."

"Heavens! man, what would you imply?" asked the officer sharply.

"Your escape and wanderings with this lady, the whole story of your
intercourse together, is enough to set many scandalous tongues wagging
about her name. The sooner this intercourse ceases, the better."

"If that be your fear, then, on the contrary, the longer I remain at her
side, the better," answered the captain drily.  "Seeing that tongues do
not long speak scandalously of a lady whom I have the honour to
protect."

"Captain Protheroe," cried Ralph sharply, "I were loth to quarrel with
you, but if you will take no hint, I must e’en speak plainly.  This lady
is nothing, can be nothing to you.  After what hath passed betwixt you,
part I know and part I guess, your attentions but trouble and embarrass
her; nay, more, they are an insult.  I insist that you at once cease to
burden her with your company."

"You insist?" repeated Captain Protheroe slowly.

"I do.  An it be necessary I will prove my right to do so."  He touched
the hilt of his sword menacingly.

Captain Protheroe rose to his feet.

"You are mad," he cried angrily; "’tis impossible for me to fight you."

"Indeed!" scoffed Ralph, "would you have me brand you coward then?"

Captain Protheroe laughed scornfully.

"Bah!  Perchance that would prove no easy matter. Seeing that those who
know me would know it for a falsehood, and those who do not know me
could be taught.  No, Sir Ralph, I will not fight you.  And for the
other matter——" he paused.  "You say that my attentions are a burden to
Mistress Barbara?"

"I do.  And that both for the sake of her fair name, and her own peace
of mind, you must leave her."

"And I think, sir, you are mistaken.  I will only leave Mistress Barbara
at her express command."

"Since you know well she is too courteous ever to urge her way," sneered
Ralph sharply.

Again there was silence.  The captain was thinking now on all that had
passed betwixt Barbara and himself; remembering her sweet trustful ways,
her gentle words; treasuring that one golden hour together in the
forest, ere discord had sent this man to part their souls.

Then he rose to his feet and faced Ralph, eyeing him keenly, hanging on
his answer.

"Tell me, Sir Ralph," he asked abruptly, "has Mistress Barbara given you
the right to protect her?"

See now how strange a thing is a man’s love for woman, since it may
inspire him alike to deeds of highest purity or words of deepest shame.

After one moment’s pause, Ralph set honour behind him, and answered
quietly:

"I have that right."

But even as Ralph spoke the words, a wild passion leapt into Captain
Protheroe’s eyes, a passion of hatred, of jealousy, of unbelief.

"Now, by Heavens!  Sir Ralph," he shouted fiercely; "I believe you lie."

"Have a care, sir," cried Ralph sharply; "for one who will not fight,
you are strangely free with your words.  ’Tis easy to speak that for
which you may not be called in question."

"Man, you will drive me mad.  ’Tis impossible that I should fight you."

"Even with this to warm your blood?"  Sir Ralph flung the contents of
his glass into his companion’s face.

Then the last shred of resolution to avoid a quarrel vanished.  That had
passed between them which could not be overlooked.  Captain Protheroe
drew his sword and bowed stiffly to his opponent, the gleam of the
death-harbinger in his eyes.

"It is enough, sir," he said furiously; "I am at your service."

But Ralph was now the calmer of the two.

"’Tis impossible here," he cried; "we should be interrupted. If it will
suit your convenience I will meet you at sunrise to-morrow in the meadow
behind the stables. There we shall be undisturbed."

"As you will.  I am at your service whensoever you choose to appoint."

So they bowed and parted for the night, with murder in their hearts.
While above in the sweet calm of her chamber, the cause of their quarrel
lay dreaming peacefully, innocent of all wrong, save only of a heart too
tender to give pain, and of a face too fair to leave a man his peace.

Alas! for a woman, since though many seek, she loves but one.  Alas! for
a woman, since if she too quickly perceive and ward off love, false
tongues cry shame upon her vanity, but, if not perceiving, she foster
it, then belike must a man’s life be laid to her charge, aye, or a man’s
soul.



                             *CHAPTER XXIV*


As the first rays of the sunrise flushed the sky with glory, Barbara
awoke on the morning following her home-coming.  She sprang from her bed
and crept softly to the casement, intending but to greet the morning,
and then slip back to sleep.  But the birds, the flowers, the sunshine
all called to her to join them, and casting away all thoughts of further
rest, she hastened to the adjoining room, and rousing her reluctant
cousin, begged her to rise and join her in an early ramble.

But Cicely declined firmly to leave her cosy bed, so Barbara was forced
to dress alone.

Presently, however, she reappeared at her cousin’s bedside, and kissed
her into wakefulness.

"Cis, you must rise," she cried; "’tis disgraceful. All the world is
stirring.  Even Ralph and Captain Protheroe are abroad, I have just seen
them go down the garden together."

"Plague take you all for a set of fools," cried Cicely sleepily; "what
should they want out at this hour o’ the morning?"

"Why, Cis, ’tis heavenly."

With a deep sigh Cicely relented.

"Well, Bab, I will come.  But not one step do I take without some
breakfast, so bid Phoebe prepare it."

And with that Barbara must perforce be content.  Yet she herself would
wait for no breakfast, but snatching up her hat, ran into the garden to
drink in the joys of the bright September morning.

Full speed she ran down the garden, and there came to a sudden halt,
remembering with a pang of remorse that she had not yet greeted Butcher
since her return. So, with intent to free him to join in her ramble, she
turned into the copse, a short cut to the stables.  But there she again
came to a pause, puzzled at the sounds which reached her ears.

"Now, what in Heaven’s name——"

Then she ran through the copse at fullest speed, for of a sudden she
divined what was passing beyond, and with a loud cry darted into the
open meadow, and ran towards the two men who were thus engaged in the
settlement of their quarrel.

At sudden sight of her, Captain Protheroe leapt quickly back out of his
opponent’s reach and lowered his swordpoint, at the same moment Barbara
seized Sir Ralph’s arm.

She seized his arm, but her eyes were fixed on Captain Protheroe in
wide-eyed indignation and reproach.

"Oh!  This is too much," she gasped; "you might have killed him."

The possibility of Ralph killing the captain had not entered her head,
but the insult and the compliment went unheeded by each.  They thought
only of the anxiety implied in her words.

"This must end now, forever," she continued firmly; "Captain Protheroe,
’tis for you to apologise."

"Madame!"

"Certainly, sir, you are in the wrong."

He stared at her in wonder.

"Do you know the cause of our quarrel, Mistress Barbara?" he asked
doubtfully.

"Assuredly," she answered in surprise, for she deemed it but the
consummation of the quarrel she had interrupted on Sedgemoor.
"Assuredly.  I am of one mind with Ralph in this matter; he is in the
right, and you have been mistaken."

Slowly the light of hope died in the captain’s eyes, and left there only
a great yearning.  He drooped his head for one long minute in silence,
then drew himself up and slowly sheathed his sword.

"Yes," he said quietly; "I have been mistaken."  Then he turned to
Barbara, and his voice was full of tenderness.

"Mistress Barbara," he said, "a man should not be blamed, if having once
looked on heaven he become blind to things of earth.  Forgive me the
mistake.  In this, in all things, I remain ever your devoted servant.
Your happiness is mine, I—I am content."

He turned and walking slowly out of the meadow, disappeared amongst the
trees.

"What does he mean?" asked Barbara wonderingly, staring after his
retreating figure.

But she had no time for further conjecture.

Directly Captain Protheroe disappeared, Ralph snatched her in his arms,
and covered her face with kisses.

"Oh! my darling, my darling," he cried; "is it indeed so?  In truth I
dared to hope it, overbold that I am. But now—to be convinced!  Ah!
Barbara, mine! mine!"

So he cried in the intervals of his kisses.  But he stopped abruptly in
the midst of his ecstasy, becoming suddenly conscious that the lady was
struggling in his embrace, struggling violently, passionately, to be
free.

He freed her, gazing at her in surprise, as she stood confronting him,
her face crimson with anger.

"Ralph!" she gasped furiously, "are you mad? What mean you?  How dare
you—touch me?"

He stepped back a pace in astonishment.

"Why, Barbara!  Barbara!" he cried.

"How dare you touch me?"

"Nay, sweetheart," he pleaded, "I have not really angered you?"

"Angered me!" cried Barbara in desperation; "angered—!  Good Heavens! am
I gone crazy?  What right can you think, can you dream you have, to
treat me so?"

"But, Barbara!" cried the amazed man; "did you not say, e’en now, you
were one with me in this matter."

"Assuredly.  But if I dislike his slander of Monmouth’s officers, must
it follow that you may treat me thus?  For shame, Ralph."

"If you dislike—Barbara!  Is’t possible you deem we fought for the
affair at Sedgemoor?"

"For what else, pray?" she asked indignantly.

But he turned aside with a groan and leaning his elbow against a tree,
buried his head in his arm.

Barbara eyed him doubtfully.

"Ralph!  Ralph!  What is’t?" she asked sharply. "Why did you fight?"

"Because—and on my faith, Barbara, I believed it to be the truth—I told
that fellow, Protheroe, that his presence, his attentions pestered you,
and I insisted he should leave you."

Barbara drew herself up royally.

"You did, Ralph?" she asked coldly.  "And pray what reason had you for
so insulting a guest in my house, a man to whom we owe everything?  Your
reason, Ralph?" she urged with an imperious stamp of her foot.

"Ah!  Barbara," he moaned; "look in your glass and there seek my reason.
Your face is reason enough to send a man to hell."

Barbara’s indignation gave way at this unexpected retort.  She was
subdued, silent.

Then Ralph raised his head and turned to face her.

"Barbara!  I must know the truth.  Do you not love me?"

She looked at him with eyes full of pity.

"No, Ralph, I cannot.  Indeed, I wish I could.  But love comes at no
man’s bidding, comes unsought, and"—she added with a break in her
voice—"so oft, alas! comes when it is not wanted."

His face was white and strained, his eyes hard as he looked at her.

"If this be so, Barbara," he cried harshly, "you have deceived me,
cruelly.  Why did you save me in the forest?  Why did you nurse me back
to life at Wells? Better to have left me to die then, deeming you worthy
my love, than let me live to learn such love in vain.  No, by Heaven!"
he cried passionately, "I care not what becomes of me; I will not live
if I must lose you."

Barbara laid her hands softly upon his arm, and in her eyes as she
raised them to his face, a strange light gleamed.

"Ralph," she whispered, "am I so unworthy of your love?"

"What mean you?" he cried, staring down at her.

"Nay, perchance I am wrong," she answered, "only it seemeth to me sad
that love must turn to bitterness an it be not crowned by possession.
And methinks a man’s love for a woman, an the woman be worthy, should be
so high a thing, that whether he win her or no, yet is his life
dedicated to her forever, and for her sake should be lived in all honour
and purity.  For think not, tho’ a woman may not love a man, her heart
is hardened at his suit.  Rather does she strive her life thro’ to be
more pure, more true, more noble, even for his love’s sake, to grow more
worthy of that highest gift which he has offered to her.  Thus in their
separate paths thro’ the world, two lives shine brighter in honour of
each other, and love that seemeth but to lead to bitterness and despair,
proves rather a mighty power strengthening and glorifying her to whom
’twas offered, and him who bore it.  Nay, Ralph, I cannot rightly say my
meaning, but sure true love should make a man strong, not weak; strong
to love even without reward."

She paused, and as he looked into her eyes, the enthusiasm of her soul
passed into his, and his heart went out to her in worship, wholly
unselfish, wholly pure. For he perceived how fair a part it is for a
man, rather than seek ever wages for service in just exchange, to give
life in service unrewarded if his soul be wakened to the sacrifice.

Low stooping he kissed her hands.

"You are right, Barbara," he said softly; "who was I to speak to you of
love?  Yet now, God helping me, my life, my love, shall prove as worthy
of you as you are worthy of the best a man may give."

But still her eyes looked on him pityingly.

"And, Ralph," she pleaded, "surely love is not all to a man.  There are
other prizes worth the winning: fame, power, knowledge, may not these
fill your heart?"

He smiled at her, shaking his head.

"Nay, Barbara, when I ask for bread, wilt throw me a stone?  Leave me my
love, dear, it sufficeth me.  All I ask of life now is grace to prove me
worthy to live in your memory."

So he spake, nor dreamed that in a few short years, his love would have
faded to a tender memory, and life, fame, honour, again be all in all.

So they turned and went back through the copse into the sunlit garden,
and Ralph, his heart still heavy beneath his sorrow, passed on into the
shadow of the house.

But Barbara lingered in the full blaze of the sunshine, on the
glittering, dew-encrusted lawn.  And since love is ever selfish, the
memory of Ralph’s trouble faded quickly in the glory and the triumph of
her own sweet dream of love.  For in reading Ralph’s heart she had
learned at last to read her own.  She knew now that God’s great gift was
hers, that her heart had learned the world’s secret, and she loved with
a love that crowned her life with glory.  So her heart leapt out to the
sunshine, and it seemed to her, as she stood thus, in the beauty of the
garden, that all nature knew her joy; the wind whispered it to the
trees, the birds sang it to the sunbeams, and the great deep-hearted
roses, pouring forth their souls in a passionate sigh of fragrance,
bowed their heads at her passing as to their queen, to whom was given
all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, to whom was
revealed all the beauty and the treasures and the wonders of the earth.

For so is ever the first coming of love to a woman; loving, purified,
one with all the world, she walks innocent as Eve in the garden of Eden,
dreaming that God hath blessed her above all women, and that from
thenceforth the purpose of her being is fulfilled.  So Barbara dreamed
away the time, in the glory of the sunshine, and the sweetness of her
joy-crowned youth.

Soon Cicely stepped from the deep shadow of the wide doorway, and came
slowly down the garden, stopping ever and anon to gather one of the
delicate roses, late-blossoming on the trees.  And as she approached she
eyed Barbara questioningly and smiled at her own thoughts.

Presently she reached her cousin’s side, and then, as she stopped to
free her skirt from an entangling branch, she began in careless,
cheerful tone:

"Oh, Barbara!  Captain Protheroe prayed me to bid you adieu; he has
gone."

"Gone!"

The sun had vanished from her sky; the glory of the world had faded.

"Gone!" she cried again.  "Left us?  Whither should he go?"

"To Watchet, to take ship to Holland, so he said; there to seek service
with the Prince of Orange," answered Cicely casually, still gathering
her flowers, still smiling to herself.

"But, wherefore?" cried Barbara, in desperation. "Wherefore should he
leave me thus, leave me without a word?"

"Nay, the riddle is more than I can read.  Yet from what he said,
methought you yourself had bid him go."

"I!  Cis, what madness!  What were his words?"

"Why, marry, that Sir Ralph had told him his presence wearies you, and
that you have declared that you are of one mind with Ralph in the
matter."

"Cicely!" she cried, a world of desperation in her tone; "sure, ’tis
impossible."

Yet even as she spoke she knew it to be true, for if Ralph had so
misunderstood her words that morning, why might not others also?

"Oh!  Cis, what shall I do?" she questioned hopelessly. "’Tis all a
mistake.  I meant not—no, indeed, I meant not that he should leave us.
What can I do?"

"Nay, child," answered Cicely calmly, "I see not what can be done now.
The man has gone.  ’Tis pity you have sent him so discourteously away,
but he has gone."

As she spoke she glanced once more quickly, questioningly at her cousin,
then gathering together her flowers, she turned back towards the house.

But as she went she smiled mischievously and hummed a light ditty she
herself had learned from Sir Rupert, and thus ran the words:

    "When maiden fair, to rouse despair,
    Doth ponder long ’twixt yea and no,
    The man who sighs, an he be wise,
    Will lightly turn his back and go.
    For tho’ he fear, while he be near,
    Of love for him the maid hath none;
    Yet when, alack! he turns his back,
    He’ll find her heart is quickly won."


Cicely passed into the house, leaving Barbara standing alone by the
sun-dial heedless alike of song or smile; for her, song and laughter
seemed to have died forever. As she watched the shadow creep along the
dial, it seemed to her like the shadow creeping over her soul, darkening
each succeeding moment of her life as her sun passed further on his way.
And as the shadow crept, so must her life creep on henceforth; slowly,
in silence and in shadow to the end.

And all her heart surged up in the despairing cry:

"I love him, I love him; he has gone!"

Gone!  Aye! but not past recall.

She started, the crimson flushing to her brows at the thought.

Could she—could she not follow him and beg him to return, seeing he had
gone in misunderstanding, deeming her ungrateful, unkind?  Nay, did she
not owe it to her love to do so, seeing he had left her apprehending
that she loved another?

But could she, indeed, do this?  Could she, Barbara Winslow, follow any
man and beg him to return to her, as it would seem, kneeling before him
to entreat his favour; she who hitherto had walked ever as proudest
among women?  The thought angered her.

And yet, she loved him, and perchance, nay, surely, he loved her.  Must
two lives be darkened because she feared to lower her pride?  Men might
look askance upon her deed, but—she loved him.  Was her love so poor a
thing that it could be dishonoured by so small a thought?  If love was
worthy of aught, surely it was worthy of courage.

She loved him, was he not her king, a man to whom a queen might be proud
to stoop!

Thus was she tortured, now daring, now shrinking, till her pride faded
in the glory of her love, and she raised her head proudly to the free
heavens, resolved upon her course.

She hastened to the stables, and with her own hands saddled her horse.
There Cicely joined her, wondering.

"What would you, Barbara?" she asked.

"I will follow him," she answered calmly, "to beg him not to leave me."

"Barbara!  You cannot!" cried Cicely quickly; "think what will be said!
Think of the shame!"

But Barbara looked at her with a strange smile.

"I love him, Cis," she said softly; "what has love to do with shame?"

And so saying, she mounted her pony, and rode off.

Her heart sang in wild triumph, for pride lay dead within her and love
was all in all.

"He loves me," she sang, "he loves me.  I go to tell him of my love."

"And if he loves me not!"

Her heart trembled at the thought; yet since her love was strong, she
did not pause.

"For," she thought, "I think, indeed, that he loves me.  But an he do
not, what then?  I can but return alone.  For what harm to him to know
he has my love? ’Twill be no burden to him, rather an added triumph to
his life.  Surely he shall know I love him.  Men do not shame to speak
their love to women, is women’s love then so poor a thing that they must
shame to speak of it to men?"

So mused Barbara, deeming herself more or less than woman.

Then on a sudden, turning the corner of a quiet lane, she saw him.
Slowly he rode, his reins hanging loosely on his horse’s neck, his head
bowed upon his breast in thought.

And at the sight she drew rein and paused, her eyes wide with doubt and
consternation.

For, so strange is woman’s heart, at sight of him, there, close before
her, all her resolution fled, and she could but stand at gaze, trembling
at the thought of his near presence, shrinking in a horror of doubt,
fear, shyness from what had, but a moment since seemed so simple, so
natural an action.  No.  ’Twas beyond question impossible, she could not
speak the words.

So, at a sudden pride-awakening thought, she resolved, and had even
then, turned her pony’s head and softly ridden away, but for the
intervention of an unexpected occurrence.

For while she paused in hesitation, a rabbit darted out of the hedge
beside her, and the pony, restive at the check to their progress, on a
sudden swerved aside, and ere she could fully recover her seat and
regain tight control of the reins, had bolted along the road, in a
senseless panic, past the astonished object of her thoughts.

Then, since perforce it must be, slowly, reluctantly, with cheeks a
flaming crimson, she turned to meet him.

As for Captain Protheroe, suddenly interrupted in his reverie by the
sight of the lady of his dreams flying past him in a whirl of
hoof-thundering, hair-flying disorder, his astonishment knew no bounds.
He reined up his horse and stood regarding her in amazement, half
doubting the reality of the vision.

"Mistress Barbara!" he exclaimed, "you here!  What do you here?"

But she trembled and flushed yet more at sight of his surprise.

"I—I do but ride abroad, sir," she faltered; "may I not ride these roads
as well as another?"

"Assuredly," he answered gravely.  But there was an eager gleam in his
eyes, for he thought on the words of Lady Cicely, spoken ere he rode
away:

"I know nought of this affair," she said.  "But I am a woman, Captain
Protheroe, and ’tis we women who see the truth.  And trust me, Barbara
loves you, whether she yet know it herself or no."

And he had ridden away, deeming the words but gentle folly, spoken to
ease his pain.  But now, as he looked upon her flushed cheek, and
downcast eyes, he thought on them again, and his heart beat quickly.

Then he looked at the pony, sweating with the fury of the ride, and he
smiled, thinking:

"Assuredly, ’twas even me she came to seek."

He dismounted and standing beside her, after a pause asked quietly:

"Madame, why did you ride after me?"

"I—I——"

"Have you nought to say to me?"

Then she gathered her courage, and turned on him to escape his
questionings.

"Why did you leave us so discourteously?" she asked.

"Alas! madame," he murmured, "I lacked courage to bid you farewell."

"But, now——"

"Now, Mistress Barbara!  Think you it were easier now to bid farewell,
now, while I look upon your face? Ah, no! in truth, I cannot leave you
now.  For, ah! Mistress Barbara——" he broke out passionately, laying his
hands on hers—"I love you—I love you, and to leave you is to go from the
joys of heaven out into the darkness of death.  Ah!  Barbara, if you
know mercy, bid me not leave you now."

[Illustration: "’AH! BARBARA, IF YOU KNOW MERCY, BID ME NOT LEAVE YOU
NOW’"]

He paused, then as she sat dumbstricken by the force of his passion, he
continued with a sudden bitterness:

"And yet how should I stay, seeing my love is nought to you.  Better to
leave you now.  For in truth, a man must not ask too much of Heaven.
But to leave you—to see your face no more!  Ah! madame, madame, what is
this you have done to me, seeing I cannot leave you now, and yet I dare
not stay?"

There was silence.  Then Barbara, turning away her face, said slowly:

"Captain Protheroe!  I supposed you and Ralph fought concerning the
affair on Sedgemoor.  I—I knew of no other cause of quarrel betwixt
you."

Captain Protheroe raised his head with a quick hope. "Ah?" he questioned
breathlessly.

"Yes.  And"—she continued hurriedly—"in this quarrel Ralph was in the
wrong.  I—I do not wish you to leave me."

A moment he paused.  Then he answered in a low restrained voice:

"While I can serve you I will remain.  But, an you need me no more, I
pray you then, in pity, turn away your face and let me go."

But Barbara turned her head and looked at him, and she whispered softly,
so softly that he but caught the words ere they died away:

"Nay, sir, but what an I need thee all my days?"  And having so spoken
again she turned away her head.

The birds’ chorus rose loud and triumphant in the human silence that
followed, while he took her hands in his and pressed them to his lips.

Then he tried to see her face, but ’twas still turned from him, he could
but see one crimson cheek and the curling lashes resting upon it.  He
sighed softly, but smiled withal.

"Mistress Barbara," he pleaded, "have I not told you your eyes are like
unto the clear depths of the heavens?  Alas! why are the heavens so oft
veiled from the gaze of man?"

She answered not, but turned her head slightly, and he saw a smile was
playing round her lips.

"Is it lest by too long contemplation of their beauty, a man should lose
himself in longing?" he asked again.

Then Barbara turned her head and faced him, but still her lashes
drooped, and she whispered very softly:

"Nay, but rather lest by too long contemplation a man should learn their
secret."

"Ah, Barbara," he pleaded; "be merciful. Show me the secret of the
heavens."

So she raised her eyes to his, and far in their depths he read her
secret.

And she, stooping, gave her face to his kisses, and her life to him for
all its span.





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