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Title: Midwinter - Certain Travellers in Old England
Author: Buchan, John
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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http://www.pgdpcanada.net



  NOVELS BY
  JOHN BUCHAN


  THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS
  GREENMANTLE
  MR. STANDFAST
  THE PATH OF THE KING
  HUNTINGTOWER
  MIDWINTER
  THE THREE HOSTAGES
  JOHN MACNAB
  THE DANCING FLOOR

  ALSO

  THE HALF-HEARTED
  THE MOON ENDURETH
  Tales and Fancies.


  HODDER AND STOUGHTON LTD.
  Publishers       London, E.C.4



  MIDWINTER

  CERTAIN TRAVELLERS IN
  OLD ENGLAND

  BY
  JOHN BUCHAN

  HODDER AND STOUGHTON
  LIMITED    LONDON



  _First Printed, August 1923_
  _Reprinted, September 1923_
  _Reprinted, October 1923_
  _Reprinted, November 1923_
  _Reprinted, December 1923_
  _Reprinted, May 1924_
  _This Edition First Printed, December 1924_
  _Reprinted, February 1925_
  _Reprinted, April 1927_

  _Made and Printed in Great Britain._
  _Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury._



_Dedication_

TO

VERNON WATNEY


  _We two confess twin loyalties--_
  _Wychwood beneath the April skies_
  _Is yours, and many a scented road_
  _That winds in June by Evenlode._
  _Not less when autumn fires the brake,_
  _Yours the deep heath by Fannich's lake,_
  _The corries where the dun deer roar_
  _And eagles wheel above Sgurr Mór._
  _So I, who love with equal mind_
  _The southern sun, the northern wind,_
  _The lilied lowland water-mead_
  _And the grey hills that cradle Tweed,_
  _Bring you this tale which haply tries_
  _To intertwine our loyalties._



_Preface_      _By the Editor_


Last year my friend, Mr Sebastian Derwent, on becoming senior partner
of the reputable firm of solicitors which bears his name, instituted a
very drastic clearing out of cupboards and shelves in the old house in
Lincoln's Inn Fields. Among a mass of derelict papers--cancelled deeds,
mouldy files of correspondence, copies of pleadings in cases long ago
forgotten--there was one little bundle which mystified him, since it
had no apparent relation to the practice of the law. He summoned me to
dinner, and, with our chairs drawn up to a bright fire and a decanter
of his famous brown sherry between us, we discussed its antecedents.

First there was a document of three quarto pages, which appeared to be
a fair copy in a scrivener's hand. It started and finished abruptly, so
we judged it to be a portion of a larger work. Then came a long
ill-written manuscript, partly in a little volume of which the clasp
and lock had been broken, and partly on loose paper which seemed to
have been torn from the beginnings and ends of printed books. The paper
had no watermark that we could discover, but its quality suggested the
eighteenth century. Last there was a bundle of letters in various
hands, all neatly docketed and dated. Mr Derwent entrusted me with the
papers, for certain words and phrases in the quarto sheets had stirred
my interest. After considerable study I discovered that the packet
contained a story, obscure in parts, but capable of being told with
some pretence of continuity.

First for the matter copied by the amanuensis. It was clearly a
fragment, intended by the compiler to form part of an introduction to
the work. On first reading it I rubbed my eyes and tasted the joy of
the discoverer, for I believed that I had stumbled upon an unknown
manuscript of Mr James Boswell, written apparently after the
publication of his _Life of Johnson_, and designed for a supplementary
volume, which, Dr Johnson being dead, he felt at liberty to compile. On
reflection I grew less certain. The thing was undoubtedly the work of
an intimate friend of the Great Lexicographer, but, though there were
mannerisms of style and thought which suggested Mr Boswell, I did not
feel able to claim his authorship with any confidence. It might be the
production of one or other of the Wartons, or of Sir Robert Chambers,
or of some Oxford friend of Johnson whose name has not come down to us.
Mr Derwent at my request explored the records of his firm, which
extended back for the better part of a century, but could find no
evidence that it had ever done business for any member of the family of
Auchinleck. Nevertheless I incline to attribute the thing to Mr
Boswell, for he alone of Johnson's circle was likely to have the eager
interest in Scotland which the manuscript reveals, and the dates do not
conflict with what we know of his movements.

Here, at all events, is the text of it:


In the last week of June in the year 1763 Johnson was in Oxford, and I
had the honour to accompany him one afternoon to the village of
Elsfield, some four miles from the city, on a visit to Mr Francis Wise,
one of the fellows of Trinity College and Radcliffe's librarian. As I
have already mentioned, there were certain episodes in the past life of
my illustrious friend as to which I knew nothing, and certain views,
nay, I venture to say prejudices, in his mind, for the origin of which
I was at a loss to account. In particular I could never receive from
him any narrative of his life during the years 1745 and 1746, the years
of our last civil war, during which his literary career seems to have
been almost totally suspended. When I endeavoured to probe the matter,
he answered me with some asperity, so that I feared to embarrass him
with further questions. "Sir, I was very poor," he once said, "and
misery has no chronicles." His reticence on the point was the more
vexatious to me, since, though a loyal supporter of the present
Monarchy and Constitution, he always revealed a peculiar tenderness
towards the unfortunate House of Stuart, and I could not but think that
in some episode in his past lay the key to a sentiment which was at
variance with his philosophy of government. I was also puzzled to
explain to my own mind the reason for his attitude towards Scotland and
the Scotch nation, which afforded him matter for constant sarcasms and
frequent explosions of wrath. As the world knows, he had a lively
interest in the primitive life of the Highlands, and an apparent
affection for those parts, but towards the rest of Scotland he
maintained a demeanour so critical as to be liable to the reproach of
harshness. These prejudices, cherished so habitually that they could
not be attributed to mere fits of spleen, surprised me in a man of such
pre-eminent justice and wisdom, and I was driven to think that some
early incident in his career must have given them birth; but my
curiosity remained unsatisfied, for when I interrogated him, I was met
with a sullen silence, if we were alone, and, if company were present,
a tempestuous ridicule which covered me with blushes.

On this occasion at Elsfield that happened which whetted my curiosity,
but the riddle remained unread till at this late stage of my life, when
my revered Master has long been dead, fortune has given the key into my
hand. Mr Francis Wise dwelt in a small ancient manor of Lord North's,
situated on the summit of a hill with a great prospect over the
Cherwell valley and beyond it to the Cotswold uplands. We walked
thither, and spent the hour before dinner very pleasantly in a fine
library, admiring our host's collection of antiquities and turning the
pages of a noble folio wherein he had catalogued the coins in the
Bodleian collection. Johnson was in a cheerful humour, the exercise of
walking had purified his blood, and at dinner he ate heartily of veal
sweetbreads, and drank three or four glasses of Madeira wine. I
remember that he commended especially a great ham. "Sir," he said, "the
flesh of the pig is most suitable for Englishmen and Christians.
Foreigners love it little, Jews and infidels abhor it."

When the meal was over we walked in the garden, which was curiously
beautified with flowering bushes and lawns adorned with statues and
fountains. We assembled for tea in an arbour, constructed after the
fashion of a Roman temple, on the edge of a clear pool. Beyond the
water there was a sharp declivity, which had been utilised to make a
cascade from the pool's overflow. This descended to a stone tank like
an ancient bath, and on each side of the small ravine lines of beeches
had been planted. Through the avenue of the trees there was a long
vista of meadows in the valley below, extending to the wooded eminence
of the Duke of Marlborough's palace of Blenheim, and beyond to the
Cotswold hills. The sun was declining over these hills, and, since the
arbour looked to the west, the pool and the cascade were dappled with
gold, and pleasant beams escaped through the shade to our refuge.

Johnson was regaled with tea, while Mr Wise and I discussed a fresh
bottle of wine. It was now that my eminent friend's demeanour, which
had been most genial during dinner, suffered a sudden change. The
servant who waited upon us was an honest Oxfordshire rustic with an
open countenance and a merry eye. To my surprise I observed Johnson
regarding him with extreme disfavour. "Who is that fellow?" he asked
when the man had left us. Mr Wise mentioned his name, and that he was
of a family in the village. "His face reminds me of a very evil
scoundrel," was the reply. "A Scotchman," he added. "But no nation has
the monopoly of rogues."

After that my friend's brow remained cloudy, and he stirred restlessly
in his chair, as if eager to be gone. Our host talked of the
antiquities in the neighbourhood, notably of the White Horse in
Berkshire and of a similar primitive relic in Buckinghamshire, but he
could elicit no response, though the subject was one to which I knew
Johnson's interest to be deeply pledged. He remained with his chin sunk
on his breast, and his eyes moody as if occupied with painful memories.
I made anxious inquiries as to his health, but he waved me aside. Once
he raised his head, and remained for some time staring across the
valley at the declining sun.

"What are these hills?" he asked.

Mr Wise repeated names--Woodstock, Ditchley, Enstone. "The trees on the
extreme horizon," he said, "belong to Wychwood Forest."

The words seemed to add to Johnson's depression. "Is it so?" he
murmured. "Verily a strange coincidence. Sir, among these hills, which
I now regard, were spent some of the bitterest moments of my life."

He said no more, and I durst not question him, nor did I ever succeed
at any later date in drawing him back to the subject. I have a strong
recollection of the discomfort of that occasion, for Johnson relapsed
into glumness and presently we rose to leave. Mr Wise, who loved
talking and displayed his treasures with the zest of the owner of a
raree-show, would have us visit, before going, a Roman altar which, he
said, had lately been unearthed on his estate. Johnson viewed it
peevishly, and pointed out certain letters in the inscription which
seemed fresher than the rest. Mr Wise confessed that he had himself
re-cut these letters, in conformity, as he believed, with the purpose
of the original. This threw Johnson into a transport of wrath. "Sir,"
he said, "the man who would tamper with an ancient monument, with
whatever intentions, is capable of defiling his father's tomb." There
was no word uttered between us on the walk back to Oxford. Johnson
strode at such a pace that I could scarcely keep abreast of him, and I
would fain have done as he did on an earlier occasion, and cried
_Sufflamina_.[1]


[1] See Boswell's _Life of Johnson_, anno 1754.


The incident which I have recorded has always remained vivid in my
memory, but I despaired of unravelling the puzzle, and believed that
the clue was buried for ever in the grave of the illustrious dead. But,
by what I prefer to call Providence rather than Chance, certain papers
have lately come into my possession, which enable me to clear up the
mystery of that summer evening, to add a new chapter to the life of one
of the greatest of mankind, and to portray my dear and revered friend
in a part which cannot fail to heighten our conception of the sterling
worth of his character.


Thus far the quarto pages. Their author--Mr Boswell or some other--no
doubt intended to explain how he received the further papers, and to
cast them into some publishable form. Neither task was performed. The
rest of the manuscript, as I have said, was orderly enough, but no
editorial care had been given it. I have discovered nothing further
about Alastair Maclean save what the narrative records, and my research
among the archives of Oxfordshire families has not enabled me to add
much to the history of the other figures. But I have put such materials
as I had into the form of a tale, which seems of sufficient interest to
present to the world. I could wish that Mr Boswell had lived to perform
the task, for I am confident that he would have made a better job of it.



_Contents_


CHAPTER                                                              PAGE

     I. IN WHICH A HIGHLAND GENTLEMAN MISSES HIS WAY                   17

    II. IN WHICH A NOBLEMAN IS PERPLEXED                               36

   III. IN WHICH PRIVATE MATTERS CUT ACROSS AFFAIRS OF STATE           60

    IV. MR KYD OF GREYHOUSES                                           71

     V. CHANCE-MEDLEY                                                  84

    VI. INTRODUCES THE RUNAWAY LADY                                   102

   VII. HOW A MAN MAY HUNT WITH THE HOUNDS AND YET RUN WITH THE HARE  114

  VIII. BROOM AT THE CROSS-ROADS                                      129

    IX. OLD ENGLAND                                                   142

     X. SNOWBOUND AT THE SLEEPING DEER                                157

    XI. NIGHT AT THE SAME: TWO VISITORS                               178

   XII. THE HUT IN THE OAK SHAW                                       189

  XIII. JOURNEYMAN JOHN                                               203

   XIV. DUCHESS KITTY ON THE ROAD                                     216

    XV. BIDS FAREWELL TO A SCOTS LAIRD                                229

   XVI. BIDS FAREWELL TO AN ENGLISH LADY                              250

  XVII. ORDEAL OF HONOUR                                              261

 XVIII. IN WHICH THREE GENTLEMEN CONFESS THEIR NAKEDNESS              279

   XIX. RAMOTH-GILEAD                                                 294



_I  In which a Highland Gentleman Misses his Way_


The road which had begun as a rutted cart-track sank presently to a
grassy footpath among scrub oaks, and as the boughs whipped his face
the young man cried out impatiently and pulled up his horse to
consider. He was on a journey where secrecy was not less vital than
speed, and he was finding the two incompatible. That morning he had
avoided Banbury and the high road which followed the crown of Cotswold
to the young streams of Thames, for that way lay Beaufort's country,
and at such a time there would be jealous tongues to question
passengers. For the same reason he had left the main Oxford road on his
right, since the channel between Oxford and the North might well be
troublesome, even for a respectable traveller who called himself Mr
Andrew Watson, and was ready with a legend of a sea-coal business in
Newcastle. But his circumspection seemed to have taken him too far on
an easterly course into a land of tangled forests. He pulled out his
chart of the journey and studied it with puzzled eyes. My Lord
Cornbury's house could not be twenty miles distant, but what if the
twenty miles were pathless? An October gale was tossing the boughs and
whirling the dead bracken, and a cold rain was beginning. Ill weather
was nothing to one nourished among Hebridean north-westers, but he
cursed a land in which there were no landmarks. A hill-top, a glimpse
of sea or loch, even a stone on a ridge, were things a man could steer
by, but what was he to do in this unfeatured woodland? These soft
south-country folk stuck to their roads, and the roads were forbidden
him.

A little further and the track died away in a thicket of hazels. He
drove his horse through the scrub and came out on a glade, where the
ground sloped steeply to a jungle of willows, beyond which he had a
glimpse through the drizzle of a grey-green fen. Clearly that was not
his direction, and he turned sharply to the right along the edge of the
declivity. Once more he was in the covert, and his ill-temper grew with
every briar that whipped his face. Suddenly he halted, for he heard the
sound of speech.

It came from just in front of him--a voice speaking loud and angry, and
now and then a squeal like a scared animal's. An affair between some
forester and a poaching hind, he concluded, and would fain have turned
aside. But the thicket on each hand was impenetrable, and, moreover, he
earnestly desired advice about the road. He was hesitating in his mind,
when the cries broke out again, so sharp with pain that instinctively
he pushed forward. The undergrowth blocked his horse, so he dismounted
and, with a hand fending his eyes, made a halter of the bridle and
dragged the animal after him. He came out into a little dell down which
a path ran, and confronted two human beings.

They did not see him, being intent on their own business. One was a
burly fellow in a bottle-green coat, a red waistcoat and corduroy small
clothes, from whose gap-toothed mouth issued volleys of abuse. In his
clutches was a slim boy in his early teens, a dark sallow slip of a
lad, clad in nothing but a shirt and short leather breeches. The man
had laid his gun on the ground, and had his knee in the small of the
child's back, while he was viciously twisting one arm so that his
victim cried like a rabbit in the grip of a weasel. The barbarity of it
undid the traveller's discretion.

"Hold there," he cried, and took a pace forward.

The man turned his face, saw a figure which he recognised as a
gentleman, and took his knee from the boy's back, though he still kept
a clutch on his arm.

"Sarvant, sir," he said, touching his hat with his free hand. "What
might 'ee be wanting o' Tom Heather?" His voice was civil, but his face
was ugly.

"Let the lad go."

"Sir Edward's orders, sir--that's Sir Edward Turner, Baronet, of
Ambrosden House in this 'ere shire, 'im I 'as the honour to serve. Sir
Edward 'e says, 'Tom,' 'e says, 'if 'ee finds a poacher in the New
Woods 'ee knows what to do with 'im without troubling me'; and I reckon
I does know. Them moor-men is the worst varmints in the country, and
the youngest is the black-heartedest, like foxes."

The grip had relaxed and the boy gave a twist which freed him.
Instantly he dived into the scrub. The keeper made a bound after him,
thought better of it and stood sullenly regarding the traveller.

"I've been a-laying for the misbegotten slip them five weeks, and now I
loses him, and all along of 'ee, sir." His tones suggested that silver
might be a reasonable compensation.

But the young man, disliking his looks, was in no mood for almsgiving,
and forgot the need of discretion. Also he came from a land where coin
of the realm was scarce.

"If it's your master's orders to torture babes, then you and he can go
to the devil. But show me the way out of this infernal wood and you
shall have a shilling for your pains."

At first the keeper seemed disposed to obey, for he turned and made a
sign for the traveller to follow. But he swung round again, and,
resting the gun which he had picked up in the crook of his arm, he
looked the young man over with a dawning insolence in his eyes. He was
beginning to see a more profitable turn in the business. The horseman
was soberly but reputably dressed, and his beast was good, but what did
he in this outlandish place?

"Making so bold," said the keeper, "how come 'ee a-wandering 'ere, sir?
Where might 'ee be a-making for?"

"Charlbury," was the answer.

The man whistled. "Charlbury," he repeated. "Again begging pardon, sir,
it's a place known for a nest of Papishes. I'd rather ha' heerd 'ee was
going to Hell. And where might 'ee come from last, sir?"

The traveller checked his rising temper. "Banbury," he said shortly.

The keeper whistled again. "'Ee've fetched a mighty roundabout way,
sir, and the good turnpike running straight for any Christian to see.
But I've heard tell of folks that fought shy of turnpikes."

"Confound you, man," the traveller cried; "show me the road or I will
find it myself and you'll forfeit your shilling."

The keeper did not move. "A shilling's no price for a man's honesty. I
reckon 'ee mun come up with me to Sir Edward, sir. He says to me only
this morning--''Ee watch the Forest, Tom, and if 'ee finds any that
can't give good account of themselves, 'ee fetch them up to me, and
it'll maybe mean a golden guinea in your pocket.' Sir Edward 'e's a
Parliament man, and a Justice, and 'e's hot for King and country.
There's soldiers at Islip bridge-end asking questions of all as is
journeying west, and there's questions Sir Edward is going to ask of a
gentleman as travels from Banbury to Charlbury by the edges of Otmoor."

The servility had gone from the man's voice, and in its place were
insolence and greed. A guinea might have placated him, but the
traveller was not accustomed to bribe. A hot flush had darkened his
face, and his eyes were bright.

"Get out of my way, you rogue," he cried.

The keeper stood his ground. "'Ee will come to Sir Edward with me if
'ee be an honest man."

"And if not?"

"It's my duty to constrain 'ee in the name of our Lord the King."

The man had raised his gun, but before he could bring the barrel
forward he was looking at a pistol held in a very steady hand. He was
no coward, but he had little love for needless risks, when he could
find a better way. He turned and ran up the steep path at a surprising
pace for one of his build, and as he ran he blew shrilly on a whistle.

The traveller left alone in the dell bit his lips with vexation. He had
made a pretty mess of a journey which above all things should have been
inconspicuous, and had raised a hue and cry after him on the domain of
some arrogant Whig. He heard the keeper's steps and the note of his
whistle grow fainter; he seemed to be crying to others and answers came
back faintly. In a few minutes he would be in a brawl with
lackeys. . . . In that jungle there was no way of escape for a
mounted man, so he must needs stand and fight.

And then suddenly he was aware of a face in the hazels.

It was the slim boy whom his intervention had saved from a beating. The
lad darted from his cover and seized the horse's bridle. Speaking no
word, he made signs to the other to follow, and the traveller, glad of
any port in a storm, complied. They slithered at a great pace down the
steep bank to the thicket of willows, which proved to be the brink of a
deep ditch. A little way along it they crossed by a ford of hurdles,
where the water was not over a man's riding boots. They were now in a
morass, which they threaded by a track which showed dimly among the
reeds, and, as the whistling and cries were still audible behind them,
they did not relax their pace. But after two more deep runnels had been
passed, and a mere thick with water-lilies crossed by a chain of hard
tussocks like stepping-stones, the guide seemed to consider the danger
gone. He slowed down, laughing, and cocked snooks in the direction of
the pursuit. Then he signed to the traveller to remount his horse, but
when the latter would have questioned him, he shook his head and put a
finger on his lips. He was either dumb, or a miracle of prudence.

The young man found himself in a great green fenland, but the falling
night and the rain limited his view to a narrow circle. There was a
constant crying of snipe and plover around him, and the noise of wild
fowl rose like the croaking of frogs in the Campagna. Acres of rank
pasture were threaded with lagoons where the brown water winked and
bubbled above fathomless mud. The traveller sniffed the air with a
sense of something foreign and menacing. The honest bitter smell of
peat-bogs he loved, but the odour of this marsh was heavy and sweet and
rotten. As his horse's hooves squelched in the sodden herbage he
shivered a little and glanced suspiciously at his guide. Where was this
gipsy halfling leading him? It looked as if he had found an ill-boding
sanctuary.

With every yard that he advanced into the dank green wilderness his
oppression increased. The laden air, the mist, the clamour of wild
birds, the knowledge that his horse was no advantage since a step aside
would set it wallowing to the girths, all combined to make the place a
prison-house, hateful to one on an urgent mission. . . . Suddenly he
was above the fen on a hard causeway, where hooves made a solid echo.
His spirits recovered, for he recognised Roman work, and a Roman road
did not end in sloughs. On one side, below the level of the causeway,
was a jungle of blackthorn and elder, and a whiff of wood-smoke reached
his nostrils. The guide halted and three times gave a call like that of
a nesting redshank. It was answered, and from an alley in the scrub a
man appeared.

He was a roughly dressed countryman, wearing huge leathern boots
muddied to the knee. Apparently the guide was not wholly dumb, for he
spoke to him in an odd voice that croaked from the back of his throat,
and the man nodded and bent his brows. Then he lifted his eyes and
solemnly regarded the horseman for the space of some seconds.

"You be welcome, sir," he said. "If you can make shift with poor fare
there be supper and lodging waiting for you."

The boy made signs for him to dismount, and led off the horse, while
the man beckoned him to follow into the tunnel in the scrub. In less
than fifty yards he found himself in a clearing where a knuckle of
gravel made a patch of hard ground. In the centre stood a small ancient
obelisk, like an overgrown milestone. A big fire of logs and brushwood
was burning, and round it sat half a dozen men, engaged in cooking.
They turned slow eyes on the new-comer, and made room for him in their
circle.

"Tom Heather's been giving trouble. He cotched Zerry and was a-basting
him when this gentleman rides up. Then he turns on the gentleman, and,
being feared o' him as man to man, goes whistling for Red Tosspot and
Brother Mark. So Zerry brings the gentleman into the Moor, and here he
be. I tell him he's kindly welcome, and snug enough with us moor-men,
though the King's soldiers was sitting in all the Seven Towns."

"He'd be safe," said one, "though Lord Abingdon and his moor-drivers
was prancing up at Beckley."

There was a laugh at this, and the new-comer, cheered by the blaze and
the smell of food, made suitable reply. He had not quite understood
their slow burring speech, nor did they altogether follow his words,
for he spoke English in the formal clipped fashion of one to whom it
was an acquired tongue. But the goodwill on both sides was manifest,
and food was pressed on him--wild duck roasted on stakes, hunks of
brown bread, and beer out of leather jacks. The men had been fowling,
for great heaps of mallard and teal and widgeon were piled beyond the
fire.

The traveller ate heartily, for he had had no meal since breakfast, and
as he ate, he studied his companions in the firelight. They were
rough-looking fellows, dressed pretty much alike in frieze and leather,
and they had the sallowish skin and yellow-tinged eyes which he
remembered to have seen among dwellers in the Ravenna marshes. But they
were no gipsies or outlaws, but had the assured and forthright air of
men with some stake in the land. Excellent were their manners, for the
presence of a stranger in no way incommoded them; they attended to his
wants, and with easy good-breeding talked their own talk. Understanding
little of that talk, he occupied himself in observing their faces and
gestures with the interest of a traveller in a new country. These folk
were at once slower and speedier than his own kind--more deliberate in
speech and movement, but quicker to show emotion in their open
countenances. He speculated on their merits as soldiers, for against
such as these he and his friends must presently fight.

"'Morrow we'd best take Mercot Fleet," said one. "Mas'r Midwinter
reckons as the floods will be down come Sunday."

"Right, neighbour Basson," said another. "He knows times and seasons
better'n Parson and near as well as Almighty God."

"What be this tale of bloody wars?" asked a third. "The Spoonbills be
out, and that means that the land is troubled. They was saying down at
Noke that Long Giles was seen last week at Banbury fair and the
Spayniard was travelling the Lunnon road. All dressed up he were like a
fine gentleman, and at Wheatley Green Man he was snuffing out o' Squire
Norreys' box."

"Who speaks of the Spoonbills?" said the man who had first welcomed the
traveller. "We bain't no ale-house prattlers. What Mas'r Midwinter
wants us to know I reckon he'll tell us open and neighbourly. Think you
he'll make music the night?"

"He's had his supper the best part of an hour, and then he'll take
tobacco. After that happen he'll gie us a tune."

The speaker had looked over his shoulder, and the traveller, following
his glance, became aware that close on the edge of the thicket a small
tent was pitched. The night had fallen thick and moonless, but the
firelight, wavering in the wind, showed it as a grey patch against the
gloom of the covert. As the conversation droned on, that patch held his
eyes like a magnet. There was a man there, someone with the strange
name of Midwinter, someone whom these moor-men held in reverence. The
young man had the appetite of his race for mysteries, and his errand
had keyed him to a mood of eager inquiry. He looked at the blur which
was the tent as a terrier watches a badger's earth.

The talk round the fire had grown boisterous, for someone had told a
tale which woke deep rumbling laughter. Suddenly it was hushed, for the
thin high note of a violin cleft the air like an arrow.

The sound was muffled by the tent-cloth, but none the less it dominated
and filled that lonely place. The traveller had a receptive ear for
music and had heard many varieties in his recent wanderings, from the
operas of Rome and Paris to gypsy dances in wild glens of Apennine and
Pyrenees. But this fiddling was a new experience, for it obeyed no law,
but jigged and wailed and chuckled like a gale in an old house. It
seemed to be a symphony of the noises of the moor, where unearthly
birds sang duets with winds from the back of beyond. It stirred him
strangely. His own bagpipes could bring tears to his eyes with memory
of things dear and familiar; but this quickened his blood, like a voice
from a far world.

The group by the fire listened stolidly with their heads sunk, but the
young man kept his eyes on the tent. Presently the music ceased, and
from the flap a figure emerged with the fiddle in its hand. The others
rose to their feet, and remained standing till the musician had taken a
seat at the other side of the fire from the traveller. "Welcome, Mas'r
Midwinter," was the general greeting, and one of them told him the
story of Tom Heather and their guest.

The young man by craning his neck could see the new figure clear in the
glow of the embers. He made out a short man of an immense breadth of
shoulder, whose long arms must have reached well below his knees. He
had a large square face, tanned to the colour of bark, and of a most
surprising ugliness, for his nose was broken in the middle, and one
cheek and the corner of one eye were puckered with an old scar. Chin
and lips were shaven, and the wide mouth showed white regular teeth.
His garments seemed to be of leather like the others, but he wore a
cravat, and his hair, though unpowdered, was neatly tied.

He was looking at the traveller and, catching his eye, he bowed and
smiled pleasantly.

"You have found but a rough lodging, Mr ----" he said, with the lift of
interrogation in his voice.

"Andrew Watson they call me. A merchant of Newcastle, sir, journeying
Bristol-wards on a matter of business." The formula, which had sounded
well enough hitherto, now seemed inept, and he spoke it with less
assurance.

The fiddler laughed. "That is for change-houses. Among friends you will
doubtless tell another tale. For how comes a merchant of the North
country to be so far from a high road? Shall I read the riddle, sir?"

He took up his violin and played very low and sweetly a Border lilt
called "The Waukin' o' the Fauld." The young man listened with
interest, but his face did not reveal what the musician sought. The
latter tried again, this time the tune called "Colin's Cattle," which
was made by the fairies and was hummed everywhere north of Forth.
Bright eyes read the young man's face. "I touch you," the fiddler said,
"but not closely."

For a moment he seemed to consider, and then drew from his instrument a
slow dirge, with the rain in it and the west wind and the surge of
forlorn seas. It was that lament which in all the country from Mull to
Moidart is the begetter of long thoughts. He played it like a master,
making his fiddle weep and brood and exult in turn, and he ended with a
fantastic variation so bitter with pain that the young man, hearing his
ancestral melody in this foreign land, cried out in amazement.

The musician lowered his violin, smiling. "This time," he said, "I
touch you at the heart. Now I know you. You have nothing to fear among
the moor-men of the Seven Towns. Take your ease, Alastair Maclean,
among friends."

The traveller, thus unexpectedly unveiled, could find no words for his
astonishment.

"Are you of the honest party?" he stammered, more in awe than in
anxiety.

"I am of no party. Ask the moor-men if the Spoonbills trouble their
heads with Governments?"

The answer from the circle was a laugh.

"Who are you, then, that watches thus the comings and goings of
travellers?"

"I am nothing--a will-o'-the-wisp at your service--a clod of vivified
dust whom its progenitors christened Amos Midwinter. I have no
possession but my name, and no calling but that of philosopher. Naked I
came from the earth, and naked I will return to it."

He plucked with a finger at the fiddle-strings, and evoked an odd lilt.
Then he crooned:

  "Three naked men I saw,
  One to hang and one to draw,
  One to feed the corbie's maw."


The men by the fire shivered, and one spoke. "Let be, Mas'r Midwinter.
Them words makes my innards cold."

"I will try others," and he sang:

  "Three naked men we be,
  Stark aneath the blackthorn tree.
  Christ ha' mercy on such as we!"


The young man found his apprehensions yielding place to a lively
curiosity. From this madman, whoever he might be, he ran no risk of
betrayal. The thought flashed over his mind that here was one who might
further the cause he served.

"I take it you are not alone in your calling?" he said.

"There are others--few but choice. There are no secrets among us who
camp by Jacob's Stone." He pointed to the rude obelisk which was just
within the glow of the fire. "Once that was an altar where the Romans
sacrificed to fierce gods and pretty goddesses. It is a thousand years
and more since it felt their flame, but it has always been a trysting
place. We Christian men have forsworn Apollo, but maybe he still
lingers, and the savour of our little cooking fires may please him. I
am one that takes no chances with the old gods. . . . Here there is
safety for the honest law-breaker, and confidence for the friend, for
we are reverent souls. How does it go?--_Fides et Pax et Honos Pudorque
priscus._"

"Then tell me of your brotherhood?"

The man laughed. "That no man can know unless he be sealed of it. From
the Channel to the Tyne they call us the Spoonbills, and on Cumbrian
moors they know us as the Bog-blitters. But our titles are as many as
the by-names of Jupiter. Up in your country I have heard that men talk
of us as the Left-Handed."

He spoke the last word in Gaelic--_ciotach_--and the young man at the
sound of his own tongue almost leapt to his feet.

"Have you the speech?" he cried in the same language.

The man shook his head. "I have nothing. For our true name is that I
have sung to you. We are the Naked Men." And he crooned again the
strange catch.

For an instant Alastair felt his soul clouded by an eeriness which his
bustling life had not known since as a little boy he had wandered alone
into the corries of Sgurr Dubh. The moonless night was black about him,
and it had fallen silent except for the sputter of logs. He seemed cut
off from all things familiar by infinite miles of midnight, and in the
heart of the darkness was this madman who knew all things and made a
mock of knowledge. The situation so far transcended his experience that
his orderly world seemed to melt into shadows. The tangible bounds of
life dislimned and he looked into outer space. But the fiddler
dispelled the atmosphere of awe, for he pulled out a pipe and filled
and lit it.

"I can offer you better hospitality, sir, than a bed by the fire. A
share of my tent is at your service. These moor-men are hardened to it,
but if you press the ground this October night you will most surely get
a touch of the moor-evil, and that is ill to cure save by a week's
drinking of Oddington Well. So by your grace we will leave our honest
friends to their talk of latimer and autumn markets."

Accompanied by deep-voiced "Good-nights" Alastair followed the fiddler
to the tent, which proved to be larger and more pretentious than it had
appeared from the fire. Midwinter lit a small lamp which he fastened to
the pole, and closed the flap. The traveller's mails had been laid on
the floor, and two couches had been made up of skins of fox and deer
and badger heaped on dry rushes.

"You do not use tobacco?" Midwinter asked. "Then I will administer a
cordial against the marsh fever." From a leathern case he took a
silver-mounted bottle, and poured a draught into a horn cup. It was a
kind of spiced brandy which Alastair had drunk in Southern France, and
it ran through his blood like a mild and kindly fire, driving out the
fatigue of the day but disposing to a pleasant drowsiness. He removed
his boots and coat and cravat, loosened the points of his breeches,
replaced his wig with a kerchief, and flung himself gratefully on the
couch.

Meantime the other had stripped almost to the buff, revealing a mighty
chest furred like a pelt. Alastair noted that the underclothes which
remained were of silk; he noticed, too, that the man had long fine
hands at the end of his brawny arms, and that his skin, where the
weather had not burned it, was as delicately white as a lady's.
Midwinter finished his pipe, sitting hunched among the furs, with his
eyes fixed steadily on the young man. There was a mesmerism in those
eyes which postponed sleep, and drove Alastair to speak. Besides, the
lilt sung by the fire still hummed in his ears.

"Who told you my name?" he asked.

"That were too long a tale. Suffice it to say that I knew of your
coming, and that long before Banbury you entered the orbit of my
knowledge. Nay, sir, I can tell you also your errand, and I warn you
that you will fail. You are about to beat at a barred and bolted door."

"I must think you mistaken."

"For your youth's sake, I would that I were. Consider, sir. You come
from the North to bid a great man risk his all on a wild hazard. What
can you, who have all your days been an adventurer, know of the
dragging weight of an ordered life and broad lands and a noble house?
The rich man of old turned away sorrowful from Christ because he had
great possessions! Think you that the rich man nowadays will be
inclined to follow your boyish piping?"

Alastair, eager to hear more but mindful of caution, finessed.

"I had heard better reports of his Grace of Beaufort," he said.

The brown eyes regarded him quizzically. "I did not speak of the Duke,
but of Lord Cornbury."

The young man exclaimed. "But I summon him in the name of loyalty and
religion."

"Gallant words. But I would remind you that loyalty and religion have
many meanings, and self-interest is a skilled interpreter."

"Our Prince has already done enough to convince even self-interest."

"Not so. You have for a moment conquered Scotland, but you will not
hold it, for it is written in nature that Highlands will never for long
control Lowlands. England you have not touched and will never move. The
great men have too much to lose and the plain folk are careless about
the whole quarrel. They know nothing of your young Prince except that
he is half foreigner and whole Papist, and has for his army a mob of
breechless mountainers. You can win only by enlisting Old England, and
Old England has forgotten you."

"Let her but remain neutral, and we will beat the Hanoverian's
soldiers."

"Maybe. But to clinch victory you must persuade the grandees of this
realm, and in that I think you will fail. You are Johnnie Armstrong and
the King. 'To seek het water beneath cauld ice, surely it is a great
follie.' And, like Johnnie, the time will come for you to say
good-night."

"What manner of man are you, who speak like an oracle? You are gentle
born?"

"I am gentle born, but I have long since forfeited my heritage. Call me
Ulysses, who has seen all the world's cities and men, and has at length
returned to Ithaca. I am a dweller in Old England."

"That explains little."

"Nay, it explains all. There is an Old England which has outlived Roman
and Saxon and Dane and Norman and will outlast the Hanoverian. It has
seen priest turn to presbyter and presbyter to parson and has only
smiled. It is the land of the edge of moorlands and the rims of forests
and the twilight before dawn, and strange knowledge still dwells in it.
Lords and Parliament-men bustle about, but the dust of their coaches
stops at the roadside hedges, and they do not see the quiet eyes
watching them at the fords. Those eyes are their masters, young sir. I
am gentle born, as you guess, and have been in my day scholar and
soldier, but now my companions are the moor-men and the purley-men and
the hill-shepherds and the raggle-taggle gypsies. And I am wholly
content, for my calling is philosophy. I stand aside in life, and
strike no blows and make no bargain, but I learn that which is hid from
others."

Alastair stirred impatiently.

"You are not above forty," he said. "You have health and wits and
spirit. Great God, man, have you no cause or leader to fight for? Have
you no honest ambition to fulfil before you vanish into the dark?"

"None. You and I are at opposite poles of mind. You are drunken with
youth and ardent to strike a blow for a dozen loves. You value life,
but you will surrender it joyfully for a whimsy of honour. You travel
with a huge baggage of ambitions and loyalties. For me, I make it my
business to travel light, caring nothing for King or party or church.
As I told you, I and my like are the Naked Men."

Alastair's eyes were drooping.

"Have you no loyalties?" he asked sleepily.

The answer wove itself into his first dream. "I have the loyalties of
Old England."

When Alastair awoke he found his boots cleaned from the mud of
yesterday, and his coat well brushed and folded. The moor-men had gone
off to their fowling, and the two were alone in the clearing, on which
had closed down a dense October fog. They breakfasted off a flagon of
beer and a broiled wild-duck, which Midwinter cooked on a little fire.
He had resumed his coarse leather garments, and looked like some giant
gnome as he squatted at his task. But daytime had taken from him the
odd glamour of the past night. He now seemed only a thick-set
countryman--a horse-doctor or a small yeoman.

The boy Zerry appeared with the horse, which had been skilfully
groomed, and Midwinter led the young man to the Roman causeway.

"It is a clear road to Oddington," he told him, "where you can cross
the river by the hurdle bridge. Keep the bells of Woodeaton that we
call the Flageolets on your left hand--they will be ringing for St
Luke's morn. Presently you will come to the Stratford road, which will
bring you to Enstone and the fringe of Wychwood forest. You will be at
Cornbury long before the dinner-hour."

When Alastair was in the saddle, the other held out his hand.

"I have a liking for you, and would fain serve you. You will not be
advised by me but will go your own proud road. God prosper you, young
sir. But if it so be that you should lose your fine baggage and need a
helper, then I have this word for you. Find an ale-house which,
whatever its sign, has an open eye painted beneath it, or a cross-roads
with a tuft of broom tied to the signpost. Whistle there the catch I
taught you last night, and maybe the Naked Men will come to your aid."



_II      In which a Nobleman is Perplexed_


By midday Alastair, riding at leisure, had crossed the first downs of
Cotswold and dropped upon the little town of Charlbury, drowsing by
Evenlode in a warm October noon. He had left the fog of morning behind
in the Cherwell valley, the gale of the previous day had died, and the
second summer of St Luke lay soft on the country-side. In the benign
weather the events of the night before seemed a fantastic dream. No
mystery could lurk in this land of hedgerows and fat pastures; and the
figure of Midwinter grew as absurd in his recollection as the trolls
that trouble an indifferent sleeper. But a vague irritation remained.
The fellow had preached a cowardly apathy towards all that a gentleman
held dear. In the rebound the young man's ardour flamed high; he would
carve with his sword and his wits a road to power, and make a surly
world acknowledge him. Unselfish aims likewise filled his mind--a
throne for his Prince, power for Clan Gillian, pride for his land, and
for his friends riches and love.

In Charlbury he selected his inn, the Wheatsheaf, had his horse fed and
rubbed down, drank a tankard of ale, rid himself of the dust of the
roads, and deposited his baggage. A decorous and inconspicuous figure,
in his chocolate coat and green velvet waistcoat with a plain dark hat
of three cocks, the servants of the inn were at once civil and
incurious. He questioned the landlord about the Forest of Wychwood, as
if his errand lay with one of the rangers, and was given a medley of
information in a speech which had the slurred "s's" and the burred
"r's" of Gloucestershire. There was the Honourable Mr Baptist
Leveson-Gower, at the Rangers' Lodge, and Robert Lee at the Burford
Lawn Lodge, and Jack Blackstone, him they called Chuffle Jack, at the
Thatched Lodge, and likewise the Verderers, Peg Lee and Bob Jenkinson.
He assumed that his guest's business lay with Mr Leveson-Gower, and
Alastair did not undeceive him, but asked casually where lay Cornbury.
The landlord took him by the arm, and pointed beyond the stream to the
tree-clad hills. "Over the river, sir, by the road that turns
right-handed at the foot of the street. You passes the gate on your way
to Rangers' Lodge. His Lordship be in residence, and entertains high
quality. His lady sister, the Scotch Duchess, arrived two days back,
and there's been post-chaises and coaches going to and fro all week."

Alastair remounted his horse in some disquiet, for a houseful of great
folks seemed to make but a poor setting for urgent and secret
conclaves. By a stone bridge he crossed the Evenlode which foamed in
spate, the first free-running stream he had seen since he left the
North, and passed through massive iron gates between white lodges built
in Charles the Second's day. He found himself in an avenue of chestnuts
and young limes, flanked by the boles of great beeches, which stretched
magnificently up the slopes of a hill. In the centre was a gravelled
road for coaches, but on either side lay broad belts of turf strewn
with nuts and fallen leaves. . . . His assurance began to fail, for
he remembered Midwinter's words on the Moor. The place was a vast
embattled fortress of ease, and how would a messenger fare here who
brought a summons to hazard all? In his own country a gentleman's house
was a bare stone tower, looking out on moor or sea, with a huddle of
hovels round the door. To such dwellings men sat loose, as to a tent in
a campaign. But the ordered amenities of such a mansion as this--the
decent town at the gates richer than a city of Scotland, the acres of
policies that warded the house from the vulgar eye, the secular trees,
the air of long-descended peace--struck a chill to his hopes. What did
a kestrel in the home of peacocks?

At the summit of the hill the road passed beneath an archway into a
courtyard; but here masons were at work and Alastair turned to the
left, in doubt about the proper entrance. Fifty yards brought him in
sight of a corner of the house and into a pleasance bright with late
flowers, from which a park fell away into a shallow vale. There in
front of him was a group of people walking on the stone of the terrace.

He was observed, and from the party a gentleman came forward, while the
others turned their backs and continued their stroll. The gentleman was
in the thirties, a slim figure a little bent in the shoulders, wearing
his own hair, which was of a rich brown, and dressed very plainly in a
country suit of green. He advanced with friendly peering eyes, and
Alastair, who had dismounted, recognised the master of the house from a
miniature he had seen in M. de Tremouille's hands.

"Have I the honour to address Lord Cornbury?" he asked.

The other bowed, smiling, and his short-sighted eyes looked past the
young man, and appraised his horse.

"My lord, I have a letter from M. de Tremouille."

Lord Cornbury took the letter, and, walking a few paces to a clump of
trees, read it carefully twice. He turned to Alastair with a face in
which embarrassment strove with his natural kindliness.

"Any friend of M. de Tremouille's is friend of mine, Captain Maclean.
Show me how I can serve you. Your baggage is at the inn? It shall be
brought here at once, for I would not forgive myself if one recommended
to me by so old a friend slept at a public hostelry."

The young man bowed. "I will not refuse your hospitality, my lord, for
I am here to beg an hour of most private conversation. I come not from
France, but from the North."

A curious embarrassment twisted the other's face.

"You have the word?" he asked in a low voice.

"I am _Alcinous_, of whom I think you have been notified."

Lord Cornbury strode off a few steps and then came back. "Yes," he said
simply, "I have been notified. I expected you a month back. But let me
tell you, sir, you have arrived in a curst inconvenient hour. This
house is full of Whiggish company. There is my sister Queensberry, and
there is Mr Murray, His Majesty's Solicitor. . . . Nay, perhaps the
company is the better cloak for you. I will give you your private hour
after supper. Meantime you are Captain Maclean--of Lee's Regiment, I
think, in King Louis' service--and you have come from Paris from Paul
de Tremouille on a matter of certain gems in my collection that he
would purchase for the Duc de Bouillon. You are satisfied you can play
that part, sir? Not a word of politics. You do not happen to be
interested in statecraft, and you have been long an exile from your
native country, though you have a natural sentiment for the old line of
Kings. Is that clear, sir? Have you sufficient of the arts to pose as a
virtuoso?"

Alastair hoped that he had.

"Then let us get the first plunge over. Suffer me to introduce you to
the company."

The sound of their steps on the terrace halted the strollers. A lady
turned, and at the sight of the young man her eyebrows lifted. She was
a slight figure about the middle size, whose walking clothes followed
the new _bergère_ fashion. Save for her huge hooped petticoats, she
was the dainty milkmaid, in her flowered chintz, her sleeveless coat,
her flat straw hat tied with ribbons of cherry velvet, her cambric
apron. A long staff, with ribbons at the crook, proclaimed the
shepherdess. She came toward them with a tripping walk, and Alastair
marked the delicate bloom of her cheeks, unspoiled by rouge, the flash
of white teeth as she smiled, the limpid depth of her great childlike
eyes. His memory told him that the Duchess had passed her fortieth
year, but his eyes saw a girl in her teens, a Flora of spring whose
summer had not begun.

"Kitty, I present to you Captain Maclean, a gentleman in the service of
His Majesty of France. He has come to me on a mission from Paul de
Tremouille--a mission of the arts."

The lady held out a hand. "Are you by any happy chance a poet, sir?"

"I have made verses, madam, as young men do, but I halt far short of
poetry."

"The inspiration may come. I had hoped that Harry would provide me with
a new poet. For you must know, sir, that I have lost all my poets. Mr
Prior, Mr Gay, Mr Pope--they have all been gathered to the shades. I
have no one now to make me verses."

"If your Grace will pardon me, your charms can never lack a singer."

"La, la! The singers are as dry as a ditch in mid-summer. They sigh and
gloom and write doleful letters in prose. I have to fly to Paris to
find a well-turned sonnet. . . . Here we are so sage and dutiful and
civically minded. Mary thinks only of her lovers, and Mr Murray of his
law-suits, and Mr Kyd of his mortgage deeds, and Kit Lacy of fat
cattle--nay, I do not think that Kit's mind soars even to that height."

"I protest, madam," began a handsome sheepish young gentleman behind
her, but the Duchess cut him short.

"Harry!" she cried, "we are all Scotch here--all but you and Kit, and
to be Scotch nowadays is to be suspect. Let us plot treason. The King's
Solicitor cannot pursue us, for he will be _criminis particeps_."

Mr Murray, a small man with a noble head and features so exquisitely
moulded that at first sight most men distrusted him, pointed to an
inscription cut on the entablature of the house.

"_Deus haec nobis otia fecit_," he read, in a voice whose every tone
was clear as the note of a bell. "We dare not offend the _genius loci_,
and outrage that plain commandment."

"But treason is not business."

"It is apt to be the most troublous kind of business, madam."

"Then Kit shall show me the grottos." She put an arm in the young
man's, the other in the young girl's, and forced them to a pace which
was ill suited to his high new hunting boots. Alastair was formally
introduced to the two men remaining, and had the chance of observing
the one whom the Duchess had called Mr Kyd. He had the look of a
country squire, tall, heavily built and deeply tanned by the sun. He
had brown eyes, which regarded the world with a curious steadiness, and
a mouth the corners of which were lifted in a perpetual readiness for
laughter. Rarely had Alastair seen a more jovial and kindly face, which
was yet redeemed from the commonplace by the straight thoughtful brows
and the square cleft jaw. When the man spoke it was in the broad
accents of the Scotch lowlands, though his words and phrases were those
of the South. Lord Cornbury walked with Mr Murray, and the other ranged
himself beside Alastair.

"A pleasant habitation, you will doubtless be observing, sir. Since
you're from France you may have seen houses as grand, but there's not
the like of it in our poor kingdom of Scotland. In the Merse, which is
my country-side, they stick the kitchen-midden up against the
dining-room window, and their notion of a pleasance is a wheen grosart
bushes and gillyflowers sore scarted by hens."

Alastair looked round the flowery quincunx and the trim borders where a
peacock was strutting amid late roses.

"I think I would tire of it. Give me a sea loch and the heather and a
burn among birchwoods."

"True, true, a man's heart is in his calf-country. We Scots are like
Ulysses, and not truly at home in Phaeacia." He spoke the last word
with the slightest lift of his eyebrows, as if signalling to the other
that he was aware of his position. "For myself," he continued, "I'm aye
remembering sweet Argos, which in my case is the inconsiderable
dwelling of Greyhouses in a Lammermoor glen. My business takes me up
and down this land of England, and I tell you, sir, I wouldn't change
my crow-step gables for all the mansions ever biggit. It's a queer
quirk in us mercantile folk."

"You travel much?"

"I needs must, when I'm the principal doer of the Duke of Queensberry.
My father was man of business to auld Duke James, and I heired the job
with Duke Charles. If you serve a mighty prince, who is a duke and
marquis in two kingdoms and has lands and messuages to conform, you're
not much off the road. Horses' iron and shoe-leather are cheap in that
service. But my pleasure is at home, where I can read my Horace and
crack with my friends and catch trout in the Whitader."

Mr Kyd's honest countenance and frank geniality might have led to
confidences on Alastair's part, but at the moment Lord Cornbury
rejoined them with word that dinner would be served in half an hour. As
they entered the house, Alastair found himself beside his host and well
behind the others.

"Who is this Mr Kyd?" he whispered. "He mentioned Phaeacia, as if he
knew my character."

Lord Cornbury's face wore an anxious look. "He is my brother
Queensberry's agent. But he is also one of you. You must know of him.
He is _Menelaus_."

Alastair shook his head. "I landed from France only three weeks back,
and know little of Mr Secretary Murray's plans."

"Well, you will hear more of him. He is now on his way to Badminton,
for he is said to have Beaufort's ear. His connection with my brother
is a good shield. Lord! how I hate all this business of go-betweens and
midnight conclaves!" He looked at his companion with a face so full of
a quaint perplexity that Alastair could not forbear to laugh.

"We must creep before we can fly, my lord, in the most honest cause.
But our wings are fledging well."

A footman led him to his room, which was in the old part of the house
called the Leicester Wing, allotted to him, he guessed, because of its
remoteness. His baggage had been brought from the inn, and a porcelain
bath filled with hot water stood on the floor. He shaved, but otherwise
made no more than a traveller's toilet, changing his boots for silk
stockings and buckled shoes, and his bob for an ample tie-wig. The
mirror showed a man not yet thirty, with small sharp features, high
cheek bones, and a reddish tinge in skin and eyebrows. The eyes were of
a clear, choleric blue, and the face, which was almost feminine in its
contours, was made manly by a certain ruggedness and fire in its
regard. His hands and feet were curiously small for one with so deep a
chest and sinewy limbs. He was neat and precise in person and movement,
a little finical at first sight, till the observer caught his quick
ardent gaze. A passionate friend, that observer would have pronounced
him, and a most mischievous and restless enemy.

His Highland boyhood and foreign journeyings had not prepared him for
the suave perfection of an English house. The hall, paved with squares
of black and white marble, was hung with full-length pictures of the
Hyde and Danvers families, and the great figures of the Civil War. The
party assembled beneath them was a motley of gay colours--the Duchess
in a gown of sky-blue above rose-pink petticoats; the young girl, whose
name was Lady Mary Capell, all in green like a dryad; Mr Murray wore
black velvet with a fuller wig than was the fashion of the moment;
while Sir Christopher Lacy had donned the blue velvet and ermine collar
of the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt, a garb in which its members were
popularly believed to sleep. Mr Kyd had contented himself with a
flowered waistcoat, a plum-coloured coat and saffron stockings. Only
the host was in sad colours, and, as he alone wore his natural hair, he
presented a meagre and dejected figure in the flamboyant company.

The Duchess talked like a brook.

"Harry must show you the Vandykes," she told Mr Murray. "He knows the
age and tale of everyone as I know my boys' birthdays. I wish he would
sell them, for they make me feel small and dingy. Look at them! We are
no better than valets-de-chambre in their presence."

The major-domo conducted them to dinner, which was served in the new
Indian Room. On the walls was a Chinese paper of birds and flowers and
flower-hung pagodas; no pictures adorned them, but a number of
delicately carved mirrors; and at intervals tall lacquer cabinets
glowed on their gilt pedestals. The servants wore purple ("like
bishops," Mr Kyd whispered), and, since the room looked west, the
declining October sun brought out the colours of wall and fabric and
set the glasses and decanters shimmering on the polished table. Through
the open windows the green slopes of the park lay bathed in light, and
a pool of water sparkled in the hollow.

To Alastair, absorbed in his errand, the scene was purely phantasmal.
He looked on as at a pretty pageant, heard the ladies' tinkling
laughter, discussed the _manège_ in France at long range with Lord
Cornbury, who was a noted horsemaster, answered Lady Mary's inquiries
about French modes as best he could, took wine with the men, had the
honour to toast the Duchess Kitty--but did it all in a kind of waking
dream. This daintiness and ease were not of that grim world from which
he had come, or of that grimmer world which was soon to be. . . . He
noticed that no word of politics was breathed; even the Duchess's
chatter was discreet on that point. The ice was clearly too thin, and
the most heedless felt the need of wary walking. Here sat the King's
Solicitor, and the wife of a Whig Duke cheek by jowl with two secret
messengers bearing names out of Homer, and at the head of the table was
one for whom both parties angled. The last seemed to feel the irony,
for behind his hospitable gaiety was a sharp edge of care. He would
sigh now and then, and pass a thin hand over his forehead. But the
others--Mr Solicitor was discussing Mr Pope's "Characters of Women" and
quoting unpublished variants. No hint of embarrassment was to be
detected in that mellow voice. Was he perhaps, thought Alastair,
cognisant of the strange mixture at table, and not disapproving? He was
an officer of the Government, but he came of Jacobite stock. Was he not
Stormont's brother? . . . And Mr Kyd was deep in a discussion about
horses with the gentleman in the Beaufort uniform. With every glass of
claret the even rosiness of his face deepened, till he bloomed like the
God of Wine himself--a Bacchus strictly sober, with very wide-awake
eyes.

Then to complete the comedy the catch he had heard on Otmoor began to
run in Alastair's head. _Three naked men we be_--a far cry from this
bedecked and cosseted assemblage. He had a moment of suffocation, until
he regained his humour. They were all naked under their fine clothes,
and for one of them it was his business to do the stripping. He caught
Lord Cornbury's eye and marked its gentle sadness. Was such a man
content? Had he the assurance in his soul to listen to one who brought
to him not peace but swords?

The late autumn afternoon was bright and mild, with a thin mist rising
from the distant stream. The company moved out-of-doors, where on a
gravelled walk stood a low carriage drawn by a pair of cream-coloured
ponies. A maid brought the Duchess a wide straw hat and driving gloves,
and, while the others loitered at the garden door, the lady chose her
companion. "_Sa singularité_," Mr Murray whispered. "It is young Mr
Walpole's name for her. But how prettily she plays the rustic!"

"Who takes the air with me?" she cried. "I choose Captain Maclean. He
is the newest of you, and can tell me the latest scandal of Versailles."

It was like an equipage fashioned out of Chelsea porcelain, and as
Alastair took his place beside her, with his knees under a driving
cloth of embroidered silk, he felt more than ever the sense of taking
part in a play. She whipped up the ponies and they trotted out of the
wrought-iron gates, which bounded the pleasance, into the wide spaces
of the park. Her talk, which at first had been the agreeable prattle of
dinner, to which he responded with sufficient ease, changed gradually
to interrogatories. With some disquiet he realised that she was
drifting towards politics.

"What do they think in France of the young man's taste in womankind?"
she asked.

He raised his eyebrows.

"The Prince--Charles Stuart--the Chevalier. What of Jenny Cameron?"

"We heard nothing of her in Paris, madam. You should be the better
informed, for he has been some months on British soil."

"Tush, we hear no truth from the North. But they say that she never
leaves him, that she shares his travelling carriage. Is she pretty, I
wonder? Dark or fair?"

"That I cannot tell, but, whatever they be, her charms must be mature.
I have heard on good authority that she is over forty years old."

It did not need the Duchess's merry laughter to tell him that he had
been guilty of a _bêtise_. He blushed furiously.

"La, sir," she cried, "you are ungallant. That is very much my own age,
and the world does not call me matronly. I had thought you a courtier,
but I fear--I gravely fear--you are an honest man."

They were now on the west side of the park, where a road led downhill
past what had once been a quarry, but was now carved into a modish
wilderness. The scarps of stone had been fashioned into grottos and
towers and fantastic pinnacles; shrubs had been planted to make shapely
thickets; springs had been turned to cascades or caught in miniature
lakes. The path wound through midget Alps, which were of the same scale
and quality as the chaise and the cream ponies and the shepherdess
Duchess.

"We call this spot Eden," she said. "There are many things I would fain
ask you, sir, but I remember the consequence of Eve's inquisitiveness
and forbear. The old Eden had a door and beyond that door lay the
desert. It is so here."

They turned a corner by the edge of a small lake and came on a stout
palisade which separated the park from Wychwood Forest. Through the
high deer-gate Alastair looked on a country the extreme opposite of the
enclosed paradise. The stream, which in the park was regulated like a
canal, now flowed in rough shallows or spread into morasses. Scrub
clothed the slopes, scrub of thorn and hazel and holly, with now and
then an ancient oak flinging gnarled arms against the sky. In the
bottom were bracken and the withered blooms of heather, where bees
still hummed. The eye looked up little glens towards distant ridges to
which the blue October haze gave the air of high hills.

As Alastair gazed at the scene he saw again his own country-side. These
were like the wild woods that cloaked Loch Sunart side, the wind
brought him the same fragrance of heath and fern, he heard the croak of
a raven, a knot of hinds pushed from the coppice and plashed through a
marshy shallow. For a second his eyes filled with tears.

He found the Duchess's hand on his. It was a new Duchess, with grave
kind face and no hint of petulance at her lips or artifice in her voice.

"I brought you here for a purpose, sir," she said. "You have before you
two worlds--the enclosed garden and the wild beyond. The wild is yours,
by birthright and training and choice. Beyond the pale is Robin Hood's
land, where men adventure. Inside is a quiet domain where they make
verses and read books and cherish possessions--my brother's land. Does
my parable touch you?"

"The two worlds are one, madam--one in God's sight."

"In God's sight, maybe, but not in man's. I will be plainer still with
you. I do not know your business, nor do I ask it, for you are my
brother's friend. But he is my darling and I fear a threat to his peace
as a mother-partridge fears the coming of a hawk. Somehow--I ask no
questions--you would persuade him to break bounds and leave his
sanctuary for the wilds. It may be the manlier choice, but oh, sir, it
is not for him. He is meant for the garden. His health is weak, his
spirit is most noble but too fine for the clash of the rough world. In
a year he would be in his grave."

Alastair, deeply perplexed, made no answer. He could not lie to this
woman, nor could he make a confidante of the wife of Queensberry.

"Pardon me if I embarrass you," she went on. "I do not ask a reply.
Your secrets would be safe with me, but if you told me them I should
stop my ears. For politics I care nothing, I know nothing. I speak on a
brother's behalf, and my love for him makes me importunate. I tell you
that he is made for the pleasance, not for the wilderness. Will you
weigh my words?"

"I will weigh them most scrupulously. Lord Cornbury is blessed in his
sister."

"I am all he has, for he never could find a wife to his taste." She
whipped up the ponies and her voice changed to its old lightness. "La,
sir, we must hasten. The gentlemen will be clamouring for tea."

In the great gallery, among more Vandykes and Knellers and Lelys and
panels of Mortlake tapestry, the company sipped tea and chocolate. The
Duchess made tea with her own hands, and the bright clothes and jewels
gleaming in the dusk against dim pictures had once more the airy
unreality of a dream. But Alastair's mood had changed. He no longer
felt imprisoned among potent shadows, for the glimpse he had had of his
own familiar country had steadied his balance. He saw the life he had
chosen in fairer colours, the life of toil and hazard and enterprise,
in contrast with this airless ease. The blood ran quicker in his veins
for the sight of a drugged and sleeping world. Ancient possessions, the
beauty of women, the joy of the senses were things to be forsworn
before they could be truly admired. Now he looked graciously upon what
an hour ago had irked him.

When the candles were lit and the curtains drawn the scene grew
livelier. The pretty Lady Mary, sitting under the Kneller portrait of
her mother, was a proof of the changelessness of beauty. A pool was
made at commerce, in which all joined, and the Duchess's childlike
laughter rippled through the talk like a trout-stream. She was in her
wildest mood, the incomparable Kitty whom for thirty years every poet
had sung. The thing became a nursery party, where discretion was
meaningless, and her irreverent tongue did not refrain from politics.
She talked of the Stuarts.

"They intermarried with us," she cried, "so I can speak as a kinswoman.
A grave dutiful race--they were, tragically misunderstood. If their
passions were fierce, they never permitted them to bias their
statecraft."

A portrait of Mary of Scots hung above her as she spoke. Mr Murray cast
a quizzical eye upon it.

"Does your summary embrace that ill-fated lady?" he asked.

"She above all. Her frailties were not Stuart but Tudor. Consider Harry
the Eighth. He had passions like other monarchs, but instead of keeping
mistresses he must marry each successive love, and as a consequence cut
off the head of the last one. His craze was not for amours but for
matrimony. So, too, with his sister Margaret. So, too, with his
great-niece Mary. She might have had a hundred lovers and none would
have gainsaid her, but the mischief came when she insisted on wedding
them. No! No! What ruined the fortunes of my kinsfolk was not the
Stuart blood but the Tudor--the itch for lawful wedlock which came in
with the Welsh bourgeoisie."

"Your Grace must rewrite the histories," said Mr Murray, laughing.

"I have a mind to. But my Harry will bear me witness. The Stuart stock
is sad and dutiful. Is not that the character of him who now calls
himself the rightful King of England?"

"So I have heard it said," Lord Cornbury answered, but the eyes which
looked at his sister were disapproving.

The ladies went early to bed, after nibbling a sweet biscuit and
sipping a glass of negus. Supper was laid for the gentlemen in the
dining-room, and presently Mr Murray, Mr Kyd and Sir Christopher Lacy
were seated at a board which they seemed to have no intention of
leaving. Alastair excused himself on the plea of fatigue, and lit a
bedroom candle. "I will come to your room," his host whispered as they
crossed the hall. "Do not undress. We will talk in my little cabinet."

The young man flung himself into a chair, and collected his thoughts.
He had been chosen for this mission, partly because of his address and
education, but mainly because of the fierce ardour which he had
hitherto shown in the Prince's cause. He knew that much hung on his
success, for Cornbury, though nothing of a soldier and in politics no
more than Member of Parliament for the University of Oxford, was so
beloved that his adherence would be worth a regiment. He knew his
repute. Such a man could not quibble in matters of principle; the task
was rather to transform apathy into action. He remembered the Duchess's
words--honest words, doubtless, but not weighty. Surely in so great a
test of honour a man could not hesitate because his health was weak or
his home dear to him.

There was a knock at the door and Lord Cornbury entered with a silk
dressing-gown worn over his clothes. He looked round the room with his
sad restless eyes.

"Here Lord Leicester died--Elizabeth's favourite. They say that when
the day of his death comes round his spirit may be heard tapping at the
walls. It is a commentary on mortal ambition, Captain Maclean. Come
with me to my cabinet. Mr Solicitor is gone to bed, for he is ready
enough for an all-night sitting at St. James's among the wits, but has
no notion of spoiling his sleep by potations among bumpkins. Kit Lacy
and Mr Kyd will keep it up till morning, but happily they are at the
other end of the house."

He led the way down a narrow staircase to a little room on the ground
floor, which had for its other entrance a door giving on a tiny paved
garden. It was lined with books and a small fire had been lit on the
hearth.

"Here we shall be secure, for I alone have the keys," Lord Cornbury
said, taking a seat by a bureau where the single lamp was behind his
head. "You have something private for my ear? I must tell you, sir, I
have been plagued for many months by portentous secret emissaries.
There was my lord Clancarty, a Cyclops with one eye and a shocking
perruque, who seemed to me not wholly in possession of his wits. There
was a Scotch gentleman--Bahaldy--Bohaldy--whom I suspected of being a
liar. There was Traquair, whose speech rang false in every stutter.
They and their kind were full of swelling words, but they were most
indisputably fools. You are not of their breed, sir. From you I look
for candour and good sense. What have you to say to me?"

"One thing only, my lord. From me you will get no boasts or promises. I
bring you a summons."

Alastair took from his breast a letter. Lord Cornbury broke the seal
and revealed a page of sprawling irregular handwriting, signed at the
foot with the words "Charles P." He read it with attention, read it
again, and then looked at the messenger.

"His Royal Highness informs me that I will be 'inexcusable before God
and men' if I fail him. For him that is a natural opinion. Now, sir,
before answering this appeal, I have certain questions to ask you. You
come from the Prince's army, and you are in the secrets of his Cabinet.
You are also a soldier. I would hear from you the Prince's strength."

"He can cross the Border with not less than five thousand horse and
foot."

"Highlanders?"

"In the main, which means the best natural fighting stock in this land.
They have already shown their prowess against Cope's regulars. There
are bodies of Lowland horse with Elcho and Pitsligo."

"And your hopes of increment?"

"More than half the clans are still to raise. Of them we are certain.
There are accessions to be looked for from the Lowlands. In England we
have promises from every quarter--from Barrymore, Molyneux, Grosvenor,
Fenwick, Petre, Cholmondeley, Leigh, Curzon in the North; from the Duke
of Beaufort and Sir Watkin Wynn in the West. Likewise large sums of
money are warranted from the city of London."

"You speak not of sympathy only, but of troops? Many are no doubt
willing to drink His Royal Highness's health."

"I speak of troops. There is also the certain aid from France. In this
paper, my lord, you will find set down the numbers and dates of troops
to be dispatched before Christmas. Some are already on the way--Lord
John Drummond with his regiment of Royal Ecossais and certain Irish
companies from the French service."

"And you have against you?"

"In Scotland--nothing. In England at present not ten thousand men.
Doubtless they will make haste to bring back troops from abroad, but
before that we hope to conquer. His Royal Highness's plan is clear. He
seeks as soon as possible to win a victory in England. In his view the
land is for the first comer. The nation is indifferent and will yield
to boldness. I will be honest with you, my lord. He hopes also to
confirm the loyalty of France, for it is certain that if his arms
triumph but once on English soil, the troops of King Louis will take
the sea."

The other mused. "It is a bold policy, but it may be a wise one. I
would raise one difficulty. You have omitted from your calculation the
British Fleet."

Alastair shrugged his shoulders. "It is our prime danger, but we hope
with speed and secrecy to outwit it."

"I have another objection. You are proposing to conquer England with a
foreign army. I say not a word against the valour of your Highland
countrymen, but to English eyes they are barbarous strangers. And
France is the ancient enemy."

"Then, my lord, it is a strife of foreigner against foreigner. Are King
George's Dutch and Danes and Hessians better Englishmen than the
Prince's men? Let England abide the issue, and join the victor."

"You speak reasonably, I do not deny it. Let me ask further. Has any
man of note joined your standard?"

"Many Scots nobles, though not the greatest. But Hamilton favours us,
and there are grounds for thinking that even the Whig dukes, Argyll and
Montrose and Queensberry, are soured with the Government. It is so in
England, my lord. Bedford . . ."

"I know, I know. All are waiting on the tide. But meantime His Royal
Highness's Cabinet is a rabble of Irishmen. Is it not so? I do not like
to have Teague in the business, sir, and England does not like it."

"Then come yourself, my lord."

Lord Cornbury smiled. "I have not finished my questions. What of his
Royal Highness's religion? I take it that it is the same as your own."

"He has already given solemn pledges for liberty and toleration. Many
Presbyterians of the straitest sect are in his camp. Be sure, my lord,
that he will not be guilty of his grandfather's blunder."

Lord Cornbury rose and stood with his back to the fire.

"You are still in the military stage, where your first duty is a
victory in the field. What does His Royal Highness wish me to do? I am
no soldier, I could not raise a dozen grooms and foresters. I do not
live in Sir Watkin's county, where you can blow a horn and summon a
hundred rascals. Here in Oxfordshire we are peaceable folk."

"He wants you in his Council. I am no lover of the Irish, and there is
sore need of statesmanship among us."

"Say you want me for an example."

"That is the truth, my lord."

"And, you would add, for statecraft. Then let us look at the matter
with a statesman's eye. You say truly that England does not love her
Government. She is weary of foreign wars, and an alien Royal house, and
gross taxes, and corruption in high places. She is weary, I say, but
she will not stir to shift the burden. You are right; she is for the
first comer. You bring a foreign army and it will fight what in the
main is a foreign army, so patriotic feeling is engaged on neither
side. If you win, the malcontents, who are the great majority, will
join you, and His Royal Highness will sit on the throne of his fathers.
If you fail, there is no loss except to yourselves, for the others are
not pledged. Statesmanship, sir, is an inglorious thing, for it must
consider first the fortunes of the common people. No statesman has a
right to risk these fortunes unless he be reasonably assured of
success. Therefore I say to you that England must wait, and statesmen
must wait with England, till the issue is decided. That issue still
lies with the soldiers. I cannot join His Royal Highness at this
juncture, for I could bring no aid to his cause and I might bring
needless ruin to those who depend on me. My answer might have been
otherwise had I been a soldier."

A certain quiet obstinacy had entered the face which was revealed in
profile by the lamp on the bureau. The voice had lost its gentle
indeterminateness and rang crisp and clear. Alastair had knowledge
enough of men to recognise finality. He made his last effort.

"Are considerations of policy the only ones? You and I share the same
creeds, my lord. Our loyalty is owed to the House which has the
rightful succession, and we cannot in our obedience to God serve what
He has not ordained. Is it not your duty to fling prudence to the winds
and make your election before the world, for right is right whether we
win or lose."

"For some men maybe," said the other sadly, "but not for me. I am in
that position that many eyes are turned on me and in my decision I must
consider them. If your venture fails, I desire that as few Englishmen
as possible suffer for it, it being premised that for the moment only
armed men can help it to success. Therefore I wait, and will counsel
waiting to all in like position. Beaufort can bring troops, and in
God's name I would urge him on, and from the bottom of my heart I pray
for the Prince's welfare."

"What will decide you, then?"

"A victory on English soil. Nay, I will go farther. So soon as His
Royal Highness is in the way of that victory, I will fly to his side."

"What proof will you require?"

"Ten thousand men south of Derby on the road to London, and the first
French contingent landed."

"That is your answer, my lord?"

"That is the answer which I would have you convey with my most humble
and affectionate duty to His Royal Highness. . . . And now, sir,
will you join me in a turn on the terrace, as the night is fine. It is
my habit before retiring."

The night was mild and very dark, and from the lake rose the honk of
wild fowl and from the woods the fitful hooting of owls. To Alastair
his failure was scarcely a disappointment, for he realised that all day
he had lived in expectation of it. Nay, inasmuch as it placed so solemn
a duty upon the soldiers of the Cause, it strung his nerves like a
challenge. Lord Cornbury put an arm in his, and the sign of friendship
moved the young man's affection. It was for youth and ardour such as
his to make clear the path for gentler souls.

They left the stones of the terrace and passed the lit window of the
dining-room, where it appeared that merriment had advanced, for Sir
Christopher Lacy was attempting a hunting-song.

"Such are the squires of England," whispered Cornbury. "They will drink
and dice and wench for the Prince, but not fight for him."

"Not yet," Alastair corrected. "But when your lordship joins us he will
not be unattended."

They reached the corner of the house from which in daylight the great
avenue could be seen, the spot where that morning Alastair had
delivered his credentials.

"I hear hooves," said Cornbury, with a hand to his ear. "Nay, it is
only the night wind."

"It is a horse," said the other. "I have heard it for the last minute.
Now it is entering the courtyard. See, there is a stable lantern."

A light swayed, and there was the sound of human speech.

"That is Kyd's Scotch servant," Cornbury said. "Let us inquire into the
errand of this night-rider."

As they moved towards the lantern a commotion began, and the light
wavered like a ship's lamp in a heavy sea.

"Haud up, sir," cried a voice. "Losh, the beast's foundered, and the
man's in a dwam."



_III    In which Private Matters Cut Across Affairs of State_


In the circle of the lantern's light the horseman, a big shambling
fellow, stood swaying as if in extreme fatigue, now steadying himself
by a hand on the animal's neck, now using the support of the groom's
shoulder. His weak eyes peered and blinked, and at the sight of the
gentlemen he made an attempt at a bow.

"My lord!" he gasped with a dry mouth. "Do I address my lord Cornbury?"

He did not wait for an answer. "I am from Chastlecote, my lord. I
beg--I supplicate--a word with your lordship."

"Now?"

"Now, if it please you. My business is most urgent. It is life or
death, my lord, the happiness or despair of an immortal soul."

"You are the tutor from Chastlecote, I think. You appear to have been
trying your beast high."

"I have ridden to Weston and to Heythrop since midday."

"Have you eaten?"

"Not since breakfast, my lord." The man's eyes were wolfish with hunger
and weariness.

"Then you shall eat, for there can be no business between a full man
and a fasting. The groom will see to your horse. Follow me."

Lord Cornbury led the way past the angle of the house to where the lit
windows of the dining-room made a glow in the dark.

"'Tis a night of queer doings," he whispered to Alastair, as they heard
the heavy feet of the stranger stumbling behind them. "We will surprise
Kit Lacy in his cups, but there will be some remnants of supper for
this fellow. 'Pon my soul, I am curious to know what has shifted such a
gravity out of bed."

He unlocked the garden-door and led the way through the great hall to
the dining-room. Sir Christopher, mellow but still sober, was
interrupted in a song, and, with admirable presence of mind, cut it
short in a view holloa. Mr Kyd, rosy as the dawn, hastened to place
chairs.

"Your pardon, gentlemen, but I bring you a famished traveller. Sit
down, sir, and have at that pie. There is claret at your elbow."

The newcomer muttered thanks and dropped heavily into a chair. Under
the bright candelabrum, among crystal and silver and shining fruit and
the gay clothes of the others, he cut an outrageous figure. He might
have been in years about the age of Lord Cornbury, but disease and
rough usage had wiped every sign of youth from his face. That face was
large, heavily-featured and pitted deep with the scars of scrofula. The
skin was puffy and grey, the eyes beneath the prominent forehead were
pale and weak, the mouth was cast in hard lines as if from suffering.
His immense frame was incredibly lean and bony, and yet from his slouch
seemed unwholesomely weighted with flesh. He wore his own hair,
straight and lank and tied with a dusty ribbon. His clothes were of
some coarse grey stuff and much worn, and, though on a journey, he had
no boots, but instead clumsy unbuckled shoes and black worsted
stockings. His cuffs and neckband were soiled, and overcrowded pockets
made his coat hang on him like a sack. Such an apparition could not but
affect the best-bred gentleman. Kit Lacy's mouth was drawn into a
whistle, Mr Kyd sat in smiling contemplation. Alastair thought of Simon
Lovat as he had last seen that vast wallowing chieftain, and then
reflected that Simon carried off his oddity by his air of arrogant
command. This fellow looked as harassed as a mongrel that boys have
chivvied into a corner. He cut himself a wedge of pie and ate
gobblingly. He poured out a tankard of claret and swallowed most of it
at a gulp. Then he grew nervous, choked on a crumb, gulped more claret
and coughed till his pale face grew crimson.

The worst pangs of hunger allayed, he seemed to recollect his errand.
His lips began to mutter as if he were preparing a speech. His tired
eyes rested in turn on each member of the company, on Lacy and Kyd
lounging at the other side of the table, on Cornbury's decorous figure
at the head, on Alastair wrapped in his own thoughts at the foot. This
was not the private conference he had asked for, but it would appear
that the urgency of his need must override discretion. A spasm of pain
distorted the huge face, and he brought his left hand down violently on
the table, so that the glasses shivered.

"My lord," he said, "she is gone."

The company stared, and Sir Christopher tittered.

"Who is your 'she,' sir?" he asked as he helped himself to wine.

"Miss Grevel . . . Miss Claudia."

The young baronet's face changed.

"The devil! Gone! Explain yourself, sir."

The man had swung round so that he faced Lord Cornbury, with his head
screwed oddly over his right shoulder. As he spoke it bobbed in a kind
of palsied eagerness.

"You know her, my lord. Miss Claudia Grevel; the cousin and housemate
of the young heir of Chastlecote, who has been committed to my charge.
Three days ago she was of age and the controller of her fortune. This
morning the maids found her bed unslept in, and the lady flown."

Lord Cornbury exclaimed. "Did she leave no word?" he asked.

"Only a letter to her cousin, bidding him farewell."

"Nothing to you?"

"To me nothing. She was a high lady and to her I was only the boy's
instructor. But I had marked for some weeks a restlessness in her
deportment and, fearing some rash step, I had kept an eye on her
doings."

"You spied on her?" said Kyd sweetly. "Is that part of an usher's
duties?"

The man was too earnest to feel the rudeness of the question.

"She was but a child, sir," he said. "She had neither father nor
mother, and she was about to be sole mistress of a rich estate. I
pitied her, and, though she in no way condescended to me, I loved her
youth and beauty."

"You did right," Lord Cornbury said. "Have your observations given you
no clue to the secret of her flight?"

"In some measure, my lord. You must know that Miss Grevel is ardent in
politics, and, like many gentlewomen, has a strong sentiment for the
young Prince now in Scotland. She has often declared that if she had
been a man she would long ago have hastened to his standard, and she
was wont to rage against the apathy of the Oxfordshire squires. A scrap
of news from the North would put her into a fury or an exaltation.
There was one gentleman of the neighbourhood who was not apathetic and
who was accordingly most welcome at Chastlecote. From him she had her
news of the Prince, and it was clear by his manner towards her that he
valued her person as well as shared her opinions. I have been this day
to that gentleman's house and found that at an early hour he started on
a journey. I was ill received there and told little, but I ascertained
that he had departed with a coach and led horses. My lord, I am
convinced that the unhappy girl is his companion."

"The man's name?" Lord Cornbury asked sharply.

"Sir John Norreys of Weston."

The name told nothing to two of the company, but it had a surprising
effect on Sir Christopher Lacy. He sprang to his feet, and began to
stride up and down the room, his chin on his breast.

"I knew his father," said Lord Cornbury, "but the young man I have
rarely seen. 'Tis a runaway match doubtless; but such marriages are not
always tragical. Miss Grevel is too highly placed and well dowered for
misadventure. Let us hope for the best, sir. She will return presently
a sober bride."

"I am of your lordship's opinion," Mr Kyd observed with a jolly laugh.
"Let a romantic maid indulge her fancy and choose her own way of
wedlock, for if she get not romance at the start she will not find it
in the dreich business of matrimony. But you and me, my lord, are
bachelors and speak only from hearsay."

The tutor from Chastlecote seemed to be astounded at the reception of
his news.

"You do not know the man," he cried. "It is no case of a youthful
escapade. I have made inquiries, and learned that he is no better than
a knave. If he is a Jacobite it is for gain, if he weds Miss Grevel it
is for her estate."

"Now what the devil should a dominie like you know about the character
of a gentleman of family?"

The words were harsh, but, as delivered by Mr Kyd with a merry voice
and a twinkle of the eye, they might have passed as a robust
pleasantry. But the tutor was not in the mood for them. Anger flushed
his face, and he blew out his breath like a bull about to charge.
Before he could reply, however, he found an ally in Sir Christopher.
The baronet flung himself again into his chair and stuck both elbows on
the table.

"The fellow is right all the same," he said. "Jack Norreys is a low
hound, and I'll take my oath on it. No scamp is Jack, for his head is
always cool and he has a heart like a codfish. He has a mighty good
gift for liquor--I say that for him--but the damnable fellow profits by
the generous frailties of his betters. He is mad for play, but he loves
the cards like an attorney, not like a gentleman, and he makes a fat
thing out of them. No, damme! Jack's no true man. If he wants the girl
'tis for her fortune, and if he sings Jacobite, 'tis because he sees
some scoundrelly profit for himself. I hate the long nose and the mean
eyes of him."

"You hear?" cried the tutor who had half risen from his seat in his
excitement. "You hear the verdict of an honest man!"

"You seem to know him well, Kit," said Lord Cornbury, smiling.

"Know him! Gad, I have had some chances. We were birched together at
Eton, and dwelt in the same stairway at Christ Church. I once rode a
match with him on the Port Meadow and bled him for a hundred guineas,
but he has avenged himself a thousandfold since then at the Bibury
meetings. He may be Lord High Chancellor when I am in the Fleet, but
the Devil will get him safe enough at the end."

Lord Cornbury looked grave, Mr Kyd wagged a moralising head.

"The thing has gone too far to stop," said the former. Then to the
tutor: "What would you have me do?"

The visitor's uncouth hands were twisting themselves in a frenzy of
appeal.

"My mistress at Chastlecote is old and bedridden, my charge is but a
boy, and Miss Grevel has no relatives nearer than Dorset. I come to you
as the leading gentleman in this shire and an upright and
public-spirited nobleman, and I implore you to save that poor pretty
child from her folly. They have gone north, so let us follow. It may
not be too late to prevent the marriage."

"Ah, but it will be," said Mr Kyd. "They can find a hedge-parson any
hour of the day to do the job for a guinea and a pot of ale."

"There is a chance, a hope, and, oh sir, I beseech you to pursue it."

"Would you have me mount and ride on the track of the fugitives?" Lord
Cornbury asked.

"Yes, my lord, and without delay. Grant me a chair to sleep an hour in,
and I am ready for any labour. We can take the road before daybreak. It
would facilitate our task if your lordship would lend me a horse better
fitted for my weight."

The naiveness of the request made a momentary silence. Then in spite of
himself Alastair laughed. This importunate usher was on the same
mission as himself, that mission which an hour earlier had conclusively
failed. To force their host into activity was the aim of both, but one
whom a summons from a Prince had not moved was not likely to yield to
an invitation to pursue a brace of green lovers. Yet he respected the
man's ardour, though he had set him down from his looks as a boor and
an oddity; and regretted his laugh, when a distraught face was turned
towards him, solemn and reproachful like a persecuted dog's.

Lord Cornbury's eyes were troubled and his hands fidgeted with a dish
of filberts. He seemed divided between irritation at a preposterous
demand and his natural kindliness.

"You are a faithful if importunate friend, sir. By the way, I have not
your name."

"Johnson, my lord--Samuel Johnson. But my name matters nothing."

"I have heard it before. . . . Nay, I remember. . . . Was it Mr
Murray who spoke of it? Tell me, sir, have you not published certain
writings?"

"Sir, I have made a living by scribbling."

"Poetry, I think. Was there not a piece on the morals of Town--in the
manner of Juvenal?"

"Bawdy, I'll be bound," put in Mr Kyd. He seemed suddenly to have grown
rather drunk and spoke with a hiccough.

The tutor looked so uncouth a figure for a poet that Alastair laughed
again. But the poor man's mind was far from humour, for his earnestness
increased with his hearers' cynicism.

"Oh, my lord," he cried, "what does it matter what I am or what
wretched books I have fathered? I urge you to a most instant duty--to
save a noble young lady from a degrading marriage. I press for your
decision, for the need is desperate."

"But what can I do, Mr Johnson? She is of age, and they have broken no
law. I cannot issue a warrant and hale them back to Oxfordshire. If
they are not yet wed I have no authority to dissuade, for I am not a
kinsman, not even a friend. I cannot forbid the banns, for I have no
certain knowledge of any misdeeds of this Sir John. I have no _locus_,
as the lawyers say, for my meddling. But in any case the errand must be
futile, for if you are right and she has fled with him, they will be
married long ere we can overtake them. What you ask from me is folly."

The tutor's face changed from lumpish eagerness to a lumpish gloom.

"There is a chance," he muttered. "And in the matter of saving souls a
chance is enough for a Christian."

"Then my Christianity falls short of yours, sir," replied Lord Cornbury
sharply.

The tutor let his dismal eyes dwell on the others. They soon left Mr
Kyd's face, stayed longer on Alastair's and came to rest on Sir
Christopher's, which was little less gloomy than his own.

"You, sir," he said, "you know the would-be bridegroom. Will you assist
me to rescue the bride?"

The baronet for a moment did not reply and hope flickered in the
other's eyes. Then it died, for the young man brought down his fist on
the table with an oath.

"No, by God. If my lord thinks the business not for him, 'tis a million
times too delicate for me. You're an honest man, Mr usher, and shall
hear my reason. I loved Miss Grevel, and for two years I dared to hope.
Last April she dismissed me and I had the wit to see that 'twas final.
What kind of figure would I cut galloping the shires after a scornful
mistress who has chosen another? I'd ride a hundred miles to see Jack
Norreys' neck wrung, but you will not catch me fluttering near the
honeypot of his lady."

"You think only of your pride, sir, and not of the poor girl."

The tutor, realising the futility of his mission, rose to his feet,
upsetting a decanter with an awkward elbow. The misadventure, which at
an earlier stage would have acutely embarrassed him, now passed
unnoticed. He seemed absorbed in his own reflections, and had suddenly
won a kind of rude dignity. As he stood among them Alastair was amazed
alike at his shabbiness and his self-possession.

"You will stay the night here, sir? The hour is late and a bed is at
your disposal."

"I thank you, my lord, but my duties do not permit of sleep. I return
to Chastlecote, and if I can get no helpers I must e'en seek for the
lady alone. I am debtor to your lordship for a hospitality upon which I
will not further encroach. May I beg the favour of a light to the
stable?"

Alastair picked up a branched candlestick and preceded the tutor into
the windless night. The latter stumbled often, for he seemed purblind,
but the other had no impulse to laugh, for toward this grotesque he had
conceived a curious respect. The man, like himself, was struggling
against fatted ease, striving to break a fence of prudence on behalf of
an honourable hazard.

Kyd's servant brought the horse, refreshed by a supper of oats, and it
was Alastair's arm which helped the unwieldy horseman to the saddle.

"God prosper you!" Alastair said, as he fitted a clumsy foot into a
stirrup.

The man woke to the consciousness of the other's presence.

"You wish me well, sir? Will you come with me? I desire a colleague,
for I am a sedentary man with no skill in travel."

"I only rest here for a night. I am a soldier on a mission which does
not permit of delay."

"Then God speed us both!" The strange fellow pulled off his hat like a
parson pronouncing benediction, before he lumbered into the dark of the
avenue.

Alastair turned to find Kyd behind him. He was exchanging jocularities
with his servant.

"Saw ye ever such a physiog, Edom?" he cried. "Dominies are getting
crouse, for the body was wanting my lord to up and ride with him like a
post-boy after some quean that's ta'en the jee. He's about as blate as
a Cameronian preacher. My lord was uncommon patient with him. D'you not
think so, Captain Maclean?"

"The man may be uncouth, but he has a stout heart and a very noble
spirit. I take off my hat to his fidelity."

The reply changed Mr Kyd's mood from scorn to a melting sentiment.

"Ay, but you're right. I hadn't thought of that. It's a noble-hearted
creature, and we would all be better if we were liker him. Courage, did
you say? The man with that habit of body, that jogs all day on a horse
for the sake of a woman that has done nothing but clout his lugs, is a
hero. I wish I had drunk his health."



_IV      Mr Kyd of Greyhouses_


Next morning Alastair rode west, and for the better part of a fortnight
was beyond Severn. He met Sir Watkin at Wynnstay and Mr Savage in
Lanthony vale, and then penetrated to the Pembroke coast where he
conferred with fisherfolk and shy cloaked men who gave appointments by
the tide at nightfall. His task was no longer diplomacy, but the
ordinary intelligence service of war, and he was the happier inasmuch
as he the better understood it. If fortune favoured elsewhere, he had
made plans for a French landing in a friendly country-side to kindle
the West and take in flank the defences of London. Now, that errand
done, his duty was with all speed to get him back to the North.

On a sharp noon in the first week of November he recrossed Severn and
came into Worcestershire, having slept at Ludlow the night before. His
plan was to return as he had come, by the midlands and Northumberland,
for he knew the road and which inns were safe to lie at. Of the doings
of his Prince he had heard nothing, and he fretted every hour at the
lack of news. As a trained soldier with some experience of war, he
distrusted profoundly the military wisdom of Charles's advisers, and
feared daily to hear of some blunder which would cancel all that had
already been won.

He rode hard, hoping to sleep in Staffordshire and next day join the
road which he had travelled south three weeks before. An unobtrusive
passenger known to none, knowing none, he took little pains to scan the
visages of those he met. It was therefore with some surprise that, as
he sat in the tap-room of an ale-house at Chifney, he saw a face which
woke some recollection.

It was that of a tall, thin and very swarthy man who was engaged in
grating a nutmeg into a pot of mulled ale. His clothes had the shabby
finery of a broken-down gentleman, but the air of a minor stage-player
which they suggested was sharply contradicted by his face. That was
grave, strong almost to hardness, and with eyes that would have
dictated if they had not brooded. He gave Alastair good-day as he
entered, and then continued his occupation in such a way that the light
from the window fell very clearly upon his features. The purpose, which
involved a change of position, was so evident that Alastair's attention
was engaged, and he regarded him over the edge of his tankard.

The memory was baffling. France, London, Rome--he fitted nowhere. It
seemed a far-back recollection, and not a coincidence of his present
journey. Then the man raised his head, and his sad eyes looked for a
moment at the window. The gesture Alastair had seen before--very long
before--in Morvern. Into the picture swam other details: a ketch
anchored, a sea-loch, a seafarer who sang so that the heart broke, a
cluster of boys huddled on hot sand listening to a stranger's tales.

"The Spainneach!" he exclaimed.

The man looked up with a smile on his dark face and spoke in Gaelic.
"Welcome, heart's darling," he said--the endearment used long ago to
the child who swam out to the foreign ship for a prize of raisins. "I
have followed you for three days, and this morning was told of your
inquiries, divined your route, and took a short cut to meet you here."

The picture had filled out. Alastair remembered the swarthy foreigner
who came yearly at the tail of the harvest to enlist young men for the
armies of Spain or France or the Emperor--who did not brag or bribe or
unduly gild the prospect, but who, less by his tongue than by his eyes,
drew the Morvern youth to wars from which few returned. An honest man,
his father had named this Spainneach, but as secret in his ways as the
woodcock blown shoreward by the October gales.

"You have a message for me?" he asked, thinking of Cornbury.

"A message--but from a quarter no weightier than my own head. You have
been over long in the South, Sir Sandy." The name had been the title
given by his boyish comrades to their leader, and its use by this grave
man brought to the chance meeting something of the intimacy of home.

"That's my own notion," he replied. "But I am now by way of curing the
fault."

"Then ride fast, and ride by the shortest road. There's sore need of
you up beyond."

"You have news," Alastair cried eagerly. "Has his Highness marched yet?"

"This very day he has passed the Border."

"How--by what route--in what strength?"

"No great increase. He looks for that on the road."

"Then he goes by Carlisle?"

The Spaniard nodded. "And Wade lies at Newcastle," he said.

Alastair brought down his fist on the board so hard that the ale lipped
from the other's tankard.

"The Devil take such blundering! Now he has the enemy on his
unprotected flank, when he might have destroyed him and won that
victory on English soil which is the key to all things. Wade is old and
doited, but he will soon have Cumberland behind him. Who counselled
this foolishness? Not his Highness, I'll warrant."

The Spaniard shrugged his shoulders. "No. His Highness would have made
a bee-line for Newcastle. But his captains put their faith in
Lancashire, and would have the honest men of North England in their
ranks before they risked a battle. They picture them as waiting, each
with a thousand armed followers, till the first tartans are south of
Shap, and then rushing to the standard."

Alastair, his brows dark with irritation, strode up and down the floor.

"The fools have it the wrong way round. England will not rise to fight
a battle, but only when a battle has been won. Wade at Newcastle was a
sovran chance--and we have missed it. Blind! Blind! You are right, my
friend. Not a second must I lose in pushing north to join my Prince.
There are no trained soldiers with him save Lord George, and he had no
more than a boyish year in the Royals. . . . You say he travels by
Shap?"

The Spaniard nodded. "And your course, Sir Sandy, must be through West
England. Ride for Preston, which all Scots invasions must pass.
Whitchurch--Tarporley--Warrington are your stages. See, I will make you
a plan."

On the dust of a barrel he traced the route, while Alastair did up the
straps of his coat and drew on his riding gloves. His horse was
brought, the lawing paid, and as the young man mounted the other stood
by his stirrup.

"Where do you go?" Alastair asked.

"Northward, like swallows in spring. But not yet awhile. I have still
errands in these parts."

An ostler inspected the horse's shoes, and Alastair sat whistling
impatiently through his teeth. The tune which came to him was
Midwinter's catch of "The Naked Men." The Spaniard started at the
sound, and long after Alastair had moved off stood staring after him
down the road. Then he turned to the house, his own lips shaping the
same air, and cast a glance at the signboard. It showed a red dragon
marvellously rampant on a field of green, and beneath was painted a
rude device of an open eye.

The chill misty noontide changed presently to a chillier drizzle, and
then to a persistent downfall. Alastair's eagerness was perforce
checked by the weather, for he had much ado to grope his way in the
maze of grassy lanes and woodland paths. Scarcely a soul was
about--only a dripping labourer at a gate, and a cadger with
pack-horses struggling towards the next change-house. He felt the
solitude and languor of the rainy world, and at the same time his bones
were on fire to make better speed, for suddenly the space between him
and the North seemed to have lengthened intolerably. The flat meadows
were hideously foreign; he longed for a sight of hill or heath to tell
him that he was nearing the North and the army of his Prince. He cursed
the errand that had brought him to this friendless land, far from his
proper trade of war.

The November dusk fell soon, and wet greyness gave place to wet mirk.
There was no moon, and to continue was to risk a lost road and a
foundered horse. So, curbing his impatience, he resolved to lie the
night at the first hostelry, and be on the move next day before the
dawn.

The mist thickened, and it seemed an interminable time before he found
a halting-place. The patch of road appeared to be uninhabited, without
the shabbiest beerhouse to cheer it. Alastair's patience was wearing
very thin, and his appetite had waxed to hunger, before the sound of
hooves and the speech of men told him that he was not left solitary on
the globe. A tiny twinkle of light shone ahead, rayed by the falling
rain, and, shrouded and deadened by the fog, came human voices.

He appeared to be at a cross-roads, where the lane he had been
following intersected a more considerable highway, for he blundered
against a tall signpost. Then, steering for the light, he all but
collided with a traveller on horseback, who was engaged in talk with
someone on foot. The horseman was on the point of starting, and the
light, which was a lantern in the hand of a man on foot, gave Alastair
a faint hurried impression of a tall young man muffled in a
fawn-coloured riding-coat, with a sharp nose and a harsh drawling
voice. The colloquy was interrupted by his advent, the horseman moved
into the rain, and the man with the lantern swung it up in some
confusion. Alastair saw what he took for an ostler--a short fellow with
a comically ugly face and teeth that projected like the eaves of a
house.

"Is this an inn, friend?" he asked.

The voice which replied was familiar.

"It's a kind of a public, but the yill's sma' and wersh, and there's
mair mice than aits in the mangers. Still and on, it's better than
outbye this nicht. Is your honour to lie here?"

The man took two steps back and pushed open the inn door, so that a
flood of light emerged, and made a half-moon on the cobbles. Now
Alastair recognised the lantern-bearer.

"You are Mr Kyd's servant?" he said.

"E'en so. And my maister's in bye, waitin' on his supper. He'll be
blithe to see ye, sir. See and I'll tak your horse and bed him weel.
Awa in wi' ye and get warm, and I'll bring your mails."

Alastair pushed open the first door he saw and found a room smoky with
a new-lit fire, and by a table, which had been spread with the
rudiments of a meal, the massive figure of Mr Nicholas Kyd.

Mr Kyd's first look was one of suspicion and his second of resentment;
then, as the sun clears away storm clouds, benevolence and good
fellowship beamed from his face.

"God, but I'm in luck the day. Here's an old friend arrived in time to
share my supper. Come in by the fire, sir, and no a word till you're
warmed and fed. You behold me labouring to make up for the
defeeciencies of this hostler wife with some contrivances of my own. An
old campaigner like Nicol Kyd doesna travel the roads without sundry
small delicacies in his saddle-bags, for in some of these English
hedge-inns a merciful man wouldna kennel his dog."

He was enjoying himself hugely. A gallon measure full of ale was before
him, and this he was assiduously doctoring with various packets taken
from a travelling-case that stood on a chair. "Small and sour," he
muttered as he tasted it with a ladle. "But here's a pinch of soda to
correct its acidity, and a nieve-full of powdered ginger-root to
prevent colic. Drunk hot with a toast and that yill will no ken itself."

He poured the stuff into a mulling pot, and turned his attention to the
edibles. "Here's a wersh cheese," he cried, "but a spice of anchovy
will give it kitchen. I never travel without these tasty wee fishes,
Captain Maclean. I've set the wife to make kail, for she had no meat in
the house but a shank-end of beef. But I've the better part of a ham
here, and a string of pig's sausages, which I take it is the English
equivalent of a haggis. Faith, you and me will no fare that ill. Sit
you down, sir, if your legs are dry, for I hear the kail coming.
There's no wine in the place, but I'll contrive a brew of punch to make
up for it."

The hostess, her round face afire from her labours in the kitchen,
flung open the door, and a slatternly wench brought in a steaming
tureen of broth. More candles were lit, logs were laid on the fire, and
the mean room took on an air of rough comfort. After the sombre
afternoon Alastair surrendered himself gladly to his good fortune, and
filled a tankard of the doctored ale, which he found very palatable.
The soup warmed his blood and, having eaten nothing since morning, he
showed himself a good trencherman. Mr Kyd in the intervals of
satisfying his own appetite beamed upon his companion, hospitably happy
at being able to provide such entertainment.

"It's a thing I love," he said, "to pass a night in an inn with a
friend and a bottle. Coming out of the darkness to a warm fire and a
good meal fair ravishes my heart, and the more if it's unexpected.
That's your case at this moment, Captain Maclean, and you may thank the
Almighty that you're not supping off fat bacon and stinking beer. A
lucky meeting for you. Now I wonder at what hostel _Menelaus_ and
_Alcinous_ could have foregathered. Maybe, the pair of them went to
visit Ulysses in Ithaca and shoot his paitricks. But it's no likely."

"How did _Menelaus_ prosper at Badminton?" Alastair asked.

"Wheesht, man! We'll get in the condiments for the punch and steek the
door before we talk."

The landlady brought coarse sugar in a canister and half a dozen
lemons, and placed a bubbling kettle on the hob. Mr Kyd carefully
closed the door behind her and turned the key. With immense care and a
gusto which now and then revealed itself in a verse of song, he poured
the sugar into a great blue bowl, squeezed the lemons over it with his
strong fingers, and added boiling water, with the quantities of each
most nicely calculated. Then from a silver-mounted case-bottle he
poured the approved modicum of whisky ("the real thing, Captain
Maclean, that you'll no find south of the Highland line") and sniffed
affectionately at the fragrant steam. He tasted the brew, gave it his
benediction, and filled Alastair's rummer. Then he lit one of the
church-wardens which the landlady had supplied, stretched his legs to
the blaze, and heaved a prodigious sigh.

"If I shut my eyes I could believe I was at Greyhouses. That's my
but-and-ben in the Lammermuirs, sir. It's a queer thing, but I can
never stir from home without the sorest kind of homesickness. I was
never meant for this gangrel job. . . . But if I open that window it
will no be a burn in the howe and the peesweeps that I'll hear, but
just the weariful soughing of English trees. . . . There's a lot of
the bairn in me, Captain Maclean."

The pleasant apathy induced by food and warmth was passing from
Alastair's mind, and he felt anew the restlessness which the Spaniard's
news had kindled. He was not in a mood for Mr Kyd's sentiment.

"You will soon enough be in the North, I take it," he said.

"Not till the New Year, for my sins. I'm the Duke's doer, and I must be
back at Amesbury to see to the plantings."

"And the mission of _Menelaus_?"

"Over for a time. My report went north a week syne by a sure hand."

"Successful?"

Mr Kyd pursed his lips. "So-so." He looked sharply towards door and
window. "Beaufort is with us--on conditions. And you?"

"I am inclined to be cheerful. We shall not lack the English grandees,
provided we in the North play the game right."

"Ay. That's gospel. You mean a victory in England."

Alastair nodded. "Therefore _Alcinous_ has done with Phaeacia and
returns to the Prince as fast as horse will carry him. But what does
_Menelaus_ in these parts? You are far away from Badminton and farther
from Amesbury."

"I had a kind of bye-errand up this way. Now I'm on my road south
again."

"Has the Cause friends hereabouts? I saw a horseman at the door in talk
with your servant."

Mr Kyd looked up quickly. "I heard tell of none. What was he like?"

"I saw only a face in the mist--a high collar and a very sharp nose."

The other shook his head. "It beats me, unless it was some forwandered
traveller that speired the road from Edom. I've seen no kenned face for
a week, except"--and he broke into a loud guffaw--"except yon daft
dominie we met at Cornbury--the man that wanted us all to mount and
chase a runaway lassie. I passed him on the road yestereen mounted like
a cadger and groaning like an auld wife."

Mr Kyd's scornful reference to the tutor of Chastlecote slightly
weakened in Alastair the friendliness which his geniality had inspired.

"It will be well for us if we are as eager in our duties as that poor
creature," he said dryly. "I must be off early to-morrow and not spare
horseflesh till I see the Standard."

"Ay, you maun lose no time. See, and I'll make you a list of
post-houses, where you can command decent cattle. It is the fruit of an
uncommon ripe experience. Keep well to the east, for there's poor roads
and worse beasts this side of the Peak."

"That was the road I came, but now I must take a different airt. I had
news to-day--disquieting news. The Prince is over the Border."

Mr Kyd was on his feet, his chair scraping hard on the stone floor, and
the glasses rattling on the shaken table.

"I've heard nothing of it. Man, what kind of news reaches you and not
me?"

"It is true all the same. I had it from one who came long ago to
Morvern and knows my clan. This day His Highness crossed Liddel."

"Liddel!" Mr Kyd almost screamed. "Then he goes by Carlisle. But Wade's
at Newcastle."

"That is precisely the damnable folly of it. He is forgoing his chance
of an immediate victory over a dotard--and a victory in England. God,
sir, His Highness has been ill advised. You see now why I ride north
hell-for-leather. I am a soldier of some experience and few of the
Prince's advisers have seen a campaign. My presence may prevent a more
fatal error."

Mr Kyd's face was a strange study. Officially it was drawn into lines
of tragic melancholy, but there seemed to be satisfaction, even
jubilation, behind the despair, and the voice could not escape a tremor
of pleased excitement. Alastair, whose life at the French court had
made him quick to judge the _nuances_ of feeling, noted this apparent
contradiction, and set it down to the eagerness of loyalty which hears
at last that the Rubicon is crossed.

"They will march through Lancashire," said Mr Kyd, "and look to recruit
the gentry. If so, they're a sturdier breed up yonder than on the Welsh
Marches----" He hesitated. "I wonder if you're right in posting off to
the North? Does this news not make a differ? What about Cornbury and
Sir Watkin? Will the casting of the die not make up their minds for
them? Faith, I think I'll take another look in at Badminton."

Alastair saw in the other's face only an earnest friendliness.

"No, no," he cried. "Nothing avails but the English victory. We must
make certain of that. But do you, Mr Kyd, press the grandees of the
Marches, while I prevent fools and schoolboys from over-riding the
natural good sense of our Prince."

Mr Kyd had recovered his composure, and insisted on filling the rummer
again for a toast to fortune. The lines about his eyes were grave, but
jollity lurked in the corners of his mouth.

"Then you'll take the west side of England and make for Warrington? Ay,
that's your quickest road. I'll draw you an _itinerarium_, for I whiles
travel that gait." He scribbled a list on a leaf from a pocket-book and
flung it to Alastair. "The morn's night you lie at Flambury, and the
third night you'll be in Chester."

"Flambury," Alastair exclaimed. "That takes me too far eastward."

"No, no. In this country the straight road's apt to be the long road.
There's good going to Flambury, and the turnpike on to Whitchurch.
You'll lie there at the Dog and Gun, and if you speak my name to the
landlord you'll get the best in his house. . . . Man, I envy you,
for you'll be among our own folk in a week. My heart goes with you, and
here's to a quick journey."

Alastair was staring into the fire, and turned more suddenly than the
other anticipated. Mr Kyd's face was in an instant all rosy goodwill,
but for just that one second he was taken by surprise, and something
furtive and haggard looked from his eyes. This something Alastair
caught, and, as he snuggled between the inn blankets, the memory of it
faintly clouded his thoughts, like a breath on a mirror.



_V_      _Chance-Medley_


In his dreams Alastair was persistently conscious of Mr Kyd's face,
which hung like a great sun in that dim landscape. Fresh-coloured and
smiling at one moment, it would change suddenly to a thing peaked and
hunted, with aversion and fear looking out of narrow eyes. And it mixed
itself oddly with another face, a pale face framed in a high coat
collar, and adorned with a very sharp nose. It may have been the supper
or it may have been the exceeding hardness of the bed, but his sleep
was troubled, and he woke with that sense of having toiled furiously
which is the consequence of nightmare. He had forgotten the details of
his dreams, but one legacy remained from them--a picture of that
sharp-nosed face, and the memory of Mr Kyd's open countenance as he had
surprised it for one second the night before. As he dressed the
recollection paled, and presently he laughed at it, for the Mr Kyd who
now presented himself to his memory was so honest and generous and
steadfast that the other picture seemed too grotesque even for a
caricature.

On descending to breakfast he found, though the day was yet early, that
his companion had been up and gone a good hour before. Had he left a
message? The landlady said no. What road had he taken? The answer was a
reference to a dozen unknown place names, for countryfolk identify a
road by the nearest villages it serves. Mr Kyd's energy roused his
emulation. He breakfasted hastily, and twenty minutes later was on the
road.

The mist had cleared, and a still November morn opened mild and grey
over a flat landscape. The road ran through acres of unkempt woodlands
where spindlewood and briars glowed above russet bracken, and then over
long ridges of lea and fallow, where glimpses were to be had of many
miles of smoky-brown forest, with now and then a slender wedge of
church steeple cutting the low soft skies. Alastair hoped to get a
fresh horse at Flambury which would carry him to Chester, and as his
present beast had come far, he could not press it for all his
impatience. So as he jogged through the morning his thoughts had
leisure to wander, and to his surprise he found his mind enjoying an
unexpected peace. He was very near the brink of the torrent; let him
make the most of these last yards of solid land. The stormy October had
hastened the coming of winter, and the autumn scents had in most places
yielded to the strong clean fragrance of a bare world. It was the smell
he loved, whether he met it in Morvern among the December mosses, or on
the downs of Picardy, or in English fields. At other times one smelled
herbage and flowers and trees; in winter one savoured the essential
elements of water and earth.

In this mood of content he came after midday to a large village on the
borders of Stafford and Shropshire, where he halted for a crust and a
jug of ale. The place was so crowded that he judged it was market day,
and the one inn had a press about its door like the visiting hours at a
debtors' prison. He despaired of forcing an entrance, so commissioned
an obliging loafer to fetch him a tankard, while he dismounted, hitched
his bridle to the signpost, and seated himself at the end of a bench
which ran along the inn's frontage.

The ale was long in coming, and Alastair had leisure to observe his
neighbours. They were a remarkable crowd. Not villagers clearly, for
the orthodox inhabitants might be observed going about their
avocations, with many curious glances at the strangers. They were all
sizes and shapes, and in every variety of dress from fustian to camlet,
but all were youngish and sturdily built, and most a trifle
dilapidated. The four men who sat on the bench beside him seemed like
gamekeepers out of employ, and were obviously a little drunk. In the
throng at the door there were horse-boys and labourers and better-clad
hobbledehoys who might have been the sons of yeomen. A raffish young
gentleman with a greyhound and with a cock of his hat broken was
engaged in an altercation with an elderly fellow who had a sheaf of
papers and had mounted a pair of horn spectacles to read them. Through
the open window of the tap-room floated scraps of argument in a dozen
varieties of dialect.

Alastair rubbed his eyes. Something in the sight was familiar. He had
seen it in Morvern, in the Isles, in a dozen parts of France and Spain,
when country fellows were recruited for foreign armies. But such things
could not be in England, where the foreign recruiter was forbidden. Nor
could it be enlistment for the English regiments, for where were the
bright uniforms and the tuck of drums? The elderly man with the papers
was beyond doubt a soldier, but he had the dress of an attorney's
clerk. There was some queer business afoot here, and Alastair set
himself to probe it.

His neighbour on the bench did not understand his question. But the
raffish young man with the greyhound heard it, and turned sharply to
the speaker. A glance at Alastair made his voice civil.

"Matter!" he exclaimed. "The matter, sir, is that I and some two-score
honest men have been grossly deceived. We are of Oglethorpe's, enlisted
to fight the Spaniard in the Americas. And now there is word that we
are to be drafted to General Wade, as if we were not
gentleman-venturers but so many ham-handed common soldiers. Hark, sir!"

From within the inn came a clatter of falling dishes and high voices.

"That will be Black Benjamin warming to work," said the young man,
proffering a pewter snuff-box in which there remained a few grains of
rappee. "He is striving in there with the Quartermaster-Sergeant while
I seek to convince Methody Sam here of the deceitfulness of his ways."

The elderly man, referred to as Methody Sam, put his spectacles in his
pocket, and revealed a mahogany face lit by two bloodshot blue eyes. At
the sight of Alastair he held himself at attention, for some instinct
in him discerned the soldier.

"I ain't denyin' it's a melancholy business, sir," he said, "and
vexatious to them poor fellows. They was recruited by Gen'ral
Oglethorpe under special permission from His Majesty, God bless 'im,
for the dooty of keeping the Spaniards out of His Majesty's territory
of Georgia in Ameriky, for which purpose they 'as signed on for two
years, journeys there and back included, at the pay of one shilling per
lawful day, and all vittles and clothing provided 'andsome. But now 'Is
Majesty thinks better on it, and is minded to let Georgia slip and send
them lads to General Wade to fight the Scotch. It's a 'ard pill to
swallow, I ain't denyin' it, but orders is orders, and I 'ave them
express this morning from Gen'ral Oglethorpe, who is a-breakin' the
news to the Shropshire Companies."

One of the drunkards on the bench broke into a flood of oaths which
caused Methody Sam to box his ears. "Ye was enlisted for a pious and
honourable dooty, and though that dooty may be changed the terms of
enlistment is the same. No foul mouth is permitted 'ere, my lad."

The young gentleman with the greyhound was listening eagerly to what
was going on indoors. "Benjamin's getting his dander up," he observed.
"Soon there will be bloody combs going. Hi! Benjy!" he shouted. "Come
out and let's do the job fair and foursquare in the open. It's a high
and holy mutiny."

There was no answer, but presently the throng at the door began to fan
outward under pressure from within. A crowd of rough fellows tumbled
out, and at their tail a gypsy-looking youth with a green bandana round
his head, dragging a small man, who had the air of having once been in
authority. Alastair recognised the second of the two non-commissioned
officers, but while one had protested against oaths the other was
filling the air with a lurid assortment. This other had his hands tied
with a kerchief, and a cord fastening the joined palms to his knees, so
that he presented a ridiculous appearance of a man at his prayers.

"Why hain't ye trussed up Methody?" the gypsy shouted to the owner of
the greyhound.

The sergeant cast an appealing eye on Alastair. There seemed to be no
arms in the crowd, except a cudgel or two and the gypsy's whinger. It
was an appeal which the young man's tradition could not refuse.

"Have patience, gentlemen," he cried. "I cannot have you prejudging the
case. Forward with your prisoner, but first untie these bonds. Quick."

The gypsy opened his mouth in an insolent refusal, when he saw
something in the horseman's eye which changed his mind. Also he noted
his pistols, and his light travelling sword.

"That's maybe fair," he grunted, and with his knife slit his prisoner's
bonds.

"Now, out with your grievances."

The gypsy could talk, and a very damning indictment he made of it. "We
was 'listed for overseas, with good chance of prize money, and a
nobleman's freedom. And now we're bidden stop at home as if we was
lousy lobsters that took the King's money to trick the gallows. Is that
fair and English, my sweet pretty gentleman? We're to march to-morrow
against the naked Highlanders that cut out a man's bowels with scythes,
and feed their dogs with his meat. Is that the kind of fighting you was
dreaming of, my precious boys? No, says you, and we'll be damned, says
you, if we'll be diddled. Back we goes to our pretty homes, but with a
luckpenny in our pocket for our wasted time and our sad disappointment.
Them sergeants has the money, and we'll hold them upside down by the
heels till we shake it out of them."

Methody Sam replied, looking at Alastair. "It's crool 'ard, but orders
is orders. Them folks enlisted to do the King's commands and if 'Is
Majesty 'appens to change 'is mind, it's no business o' theirs or mine.
The money me and Bill 'as is Government money, and if they force it
from us they'll be apprehended and 'anged as common robbers. I want to
save their poor innocent souls from 'anging felony."

The crowd showed no desire for salvation. There was a surge towards the
two men and the gypsy's hand would have been on the throat of Methody
Sam had not Alastair struck it up. The smaller of the two
non-commissioned officers was chafing his wrists, which his recent
bonds had abraded, and lamenting that he had left his pistols at home.

"What made you come here with money and nothing to guard it?" Alastair
asked.

"The General's orders, sir. But it was different when we was temptin'
them with Ameriky and the Spaniards' gold. Now we'll need a file o'
loaded muskets to get 'em a step on the road. Ay, sir, we'll be
fort'nate if by supper time they've not all scattered like a wisp o'
snipes, takin' with 'em 'Is Majesty's guineas."

"Keep beside me!" Alastair whispered. A sudden rush would have swept
the little man off, had not Methody Sam plucked him back.

"Better yield quiet," said the gypsy. "We don't want no blood-lettin',
but we're boys as is not to be played with. Out with the guineas, tear
up the rolls, and the two of ye may go to Hell for all we care."

"What are you going to do?" Alastair asked his neighbours.

The little man looked bleakly at the crowd. "There don't seem much of a
chance, but we're bound to put up a fight, seein' we're in charge of
'Is Majesty's property. That your notion, Sam?"

The Methody signified his assent by a cheerful groan.

"Then I'm with you," said Alastair. "To the inn wall? We must get our
backs protected."

The suddenness of the movement and the glint of Alastair's sword opened
a way for the three to a re-entrant angle of the inn, where their
flanks and rear were safe from attack. Alastair raised his voice.

"Gentlemen," he said, "as a soldier I cannot permit mutiny. You will
not touch a penny of His Majesty's money, and you will wait here on
General Oglethorpe's orders. If he sees fit to disband you, good and
well; if not, you march as he commands."

Even as he spoke inward laughter consumed him. He, a follower of the
Prince, was taking pains that certain troops should reach Wade, the
Prince's enemy. Yet he could not act otherwise, for the camaraderie of
his profession constrained him.

The power of the armed over the unarmed was in that moment notably
exemplified. There was grumbling, a curse or two, and sullen faces, but
no attempt was made to rush that corner where stood an active young man
with an ugly sword. The mob swayed and muttered, the gypsy went off on
an errand behind the inn, one of the drunkards lurched forward as if to
attack and fell prone. A stone or two was thrown, but Alastair showed
his pistols, and that form of assault was dropped. The crowd became
stagnant, but it did not disperse.

"I must get on to Flambury," Alastair told his neighbours. "I cannot
wait all day here. There is nothing for it but that you go with me. My
pistols will get us a passage to my horse yonder, and we can ride and
tie."

The plan was never put into action. For at the moment from a window
over their heads descended a shower of red-hot embers. All three leaped
forward to avoid a scorching and so moved outside the protecting side
wall. Then, neatly and suddenly, the little man called Bill was plucked
up and hustled into the crowd. Alastair could not fire or draw upon a
circle of gaping faces. He looked furiously to his right, when a cry on
his left warned him that the Methody also had gone.

But him he could follow, for he saw the boots of him being dragged
inside the inn door. Clearing his way with his sword, he rushed
thither, stumbling over the greyhound and with a kick sending it
flying. There were three steps to the door, and as he mounted them he
obtained a view over the heads of the mob and down the village street.
He saw his horse still peacefully tethered to the signpost, and beyond
it there came into view a mounted troop clattering up the cobbles.

The door yielded to his foot and he received in his arms the Methody,
who seemed to have made his escape from his captors. "They've got Bill
in the cellar," he gasped. "It's that Gypsy Ben." And then he was
stricken dumb at something which he saw below Alastair's armpits.

The crowd had scattered and its soberer members now clustered in small
knots with a desperate effort at nonchalance. Opposite the inn door
horsemen had halted, and the leader, a tall man with the black military
cockade in his hat, was looking sternly at the group, till his eye
caught the Methody. "Ha! Sewell," he cried, and the Methody, stricken
into a ramrod, stood erect before him.

"These are recruits of ours?" he asked. "You have explained to them the
new orders?"

"Sir," said the ramrod, raising his voice so that all could hear, "I
have explained, as in dooty bound, and I 'ave to report that, though
naturally disappointed, they bows to orders, all but a gypsy
rapscallion, of whom we be well quit. I 'ave likewise to report that
Bill and me 'as been much assisted by this gentleman you sees before
you, without whom things might 'ave gone ugly."

The tall soldier's eyes turned towards Alastair and he bowed.

"I am in your debt, sir. General Oglethorpe is much beholden to you."

"Nay, sir, as a soldier who chanced upon a difficult situation I had no
choice but to lend my poor aid."

The General proffered his snuff-box. "Of which regiment?"

"Of none English. My service has been outside my country, on the
continent of Europe. I am born a poor Scottish gentleman, sir, whose
sword is his livelihood. They call me Maclean."

General Oglethorpe looked up quickly. "A most honourable livelihood. I
too have carried my sword abroad--to the Americas, as you may have
heard. I was returning thither, but I have been intercepted for service
in the North. Will you dine with me, sir? I should esteem your company."

"Nay, I must be on the road," said Alastair. "Already I have delayed
too long. I admire your raw material, sir, but I do not covet your task
of shaping it to the purposes of war."

The General smiled sourly. "In Georgia they would have been good
soldiers in a fortnight. Here in England they will be still raw after a
year's campaigning."

They parted with elaborate courtesies, and looking back, Alastair saw
what had five minutes before been an angry mob falling into rank under
General Oglethorpe's eye. He wondered what had become of Ben the Gypsy.

Flambury proved but a short two-hours' journey. It was a large village
with a broad street studded with ancient elm trees, and, as Alastair
entered it, that street was thronged like a hiring fair. The noise of
human voices, of fiddles and tabrets and of excited dogs, had greeted
him half a mile off, like the rumour of a battlefield. Wondering at the
cause of the din, he wondered more when he approached the houses and
saw the transformation of the place. There were booths below the elm
trees, protected from possible rain by awnings of sacking, where
ribands and crockery and cheap knives were being vended. Men and women,
clothed like mummers, danced under the November sky as if it had been
May-day. Games of chance were in progress, fortunes were being spae'd,
fairings of gingerbread bought, and, not least, horses sold to the
accompaniment of shrill cries from stable boys and the whinnyings of
startled colts and fillies. The sight gave Alastair a sense of
security, for in such an assemblage a stranger would not be questioned.
He asked a woman what the stir signified. "Lawk a mussy, where be you
borned," she said, "not to know 'tis Flambury Feast-Day?"

The Dog and Gun was easy to find. Already the darkness was falling, and
while the street was lit with tarry staves, the interior of the
hostelry glowed with a hundred candles. The sign was undecipherable in
the half light, but the name in irregular letters was inscribed above
the ancient door. Alastair rode into a courtyard filled with chaises
and farmers' carts, and having with some difficulty found an ostler,
stood over him while his horse was groomed, fed and watered. Then he
turned to the house, remembering Mr Kyd's recommendation to the
landlord. If that recommendation could procure him some privacy in this
visit, fortunate would have been his meeting with the laird of
Greyhouses.

The landlord, discovered not without difficulty, was a lusty florid
fellow, with a loud voice and a beery eye. He summoned the traveller
into his own parlour, behind the tap-room, from which all day his
bustling wife directed the affairs of the house. The place was a shrine
of comfort, with a bright fire reflected in polished brass and in
bottles of cordials and essences which shone like jewels. The wife at a
long table was mixing bowl after bowl of spiced liquors, her face
glowing like a moon, and her nose perpetually wrinkled in the task of
sniffing odours to detect the moment when the brew was right. The
husband placed a red-cushioned chair for Alastair, and played nervously
with the strings of his apron. It occurred to the traveller that the
man had greeted him as if he had been expected, and at this he wondered.

The name of Mr Kyd was a talisman that wrought mightily upon the host's
goodwill, but that good-will was greater than his powers.

"Another time and the whole house would have been at your honour's
service," he protested. "But to-day----" and he shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, you shall have a bed, though I have to lie myself on bare boards,
but a private room is out of my power. We've but the three of them, and
they're all as throng as a bee-hive. There's Tom Briggs in the Blue
Room, celebrating the sale of his string of young horses--an ancient
engagement, sir; and there's the Codgers' Supper in the Gents' Attic,
and in Shrewsbury there's five pig dealers sleeping on chairs. That's
so, mother?"

"Six in Shrewsbury," said the lady, "and there's five waiting on the
Attic, as soon as the Codgers have supped."

"You see, sir, how I'm situated. You'll have a good bed to yourself,
but I fear I must ask you to sup in the bar parlour with the other
gentry that's here to-day. Unless your honour would prefer the
kitchen?" he added hopefully.

Alastair, who had a vision of a company of drunken squirelings of an
inquisitive turn, announced that he would greatly prefer the kitchen.
The decision seemed to please the landlord.

"There's a good fire and not above half a dozen for company at present.
Warm yourself there, sir, and your supper will be ready before your
feet are comforted. A dish of pullets and eggs, mutton chops, a prime
ham, a good cut of beef, and the best of double Gloucester. What say
you to that now? And for liquor a bowl of mother's spiced October, with
a bottle of old port to go with the cheese."

Alastair was hungry enough to approve of the lot, and tired and cold
enough to welcome the chance of a roaring kitchen hearth. In the great
shadowy place, the rafters loaded with hams and the walls bright with
warming-pans, there was only a handful of topers, since the business
out-of-doors was still too engrossing. The landlord was as good as his
word, and within half an hour the traveller was sitting down to a most
substantial meal at the massive board. The hostess's spiced October was
delicate yet potent, the port thereafter--of which the host had a
couple of glasses--a generous vintage. The young man at length drew his
chair from the table to the fireside and stretched his legs to the
blaze, replete and comfortable in body, and placid, if a little hazy,
in mind. . . . Presently the leaping flames of the logs took odd
shapes; the drone of voices from the corner became surf on a shore: he
saw a fire on a beach and dark hills behind it, and heard the soft
Gaelic of his kin. . . . His head nodded on his breast and he was
sound asleep.

He woke to find an unpleasant warmth below his nose and to hear a
cackle as of a thousand geese in his ears. Something bright and burning
was close to his face. He shrank from it and at once sprawled on his
back, his head bumping hard on the stone floor.

The shock thoroughly awakened him. As he sprang to his feet he saw a
knot of flushed giggling faces. One of the group had been holding a
red-hot poker to his face, while another had drawn away the chair from
beneath him.

His first impulse was to buffet their heads, for no man is angrier than
a sleeper rudely awakened. The kitchen was now crowded, and the company
seemed to appreciate the efforts of the practical jokers, for there was
a roar of applause and shouts of merriment. The jokers, who from their
dress were hobbledehoy yeomen or small squires, were thus encouraged to
continue, and, being apparently well on the way to drunkenness, were
not disposed to consider risks. Two of them wore swords, but it was
clear that the sword was not their weapon.

Alastair in a flaming passion had his hand on his blade, when his arm
was touched from behind and a voice spoke. "Control your temper, sir, I
beseech you. This business is premeditated. They seek to fasten a
quarrel on you. Don't look round. Smile and laugh with them."

The voice was familiar though he could not put a name to it. A second
glance at the company convinced him that the advice was sound and he
forced himself to urbanity. He took his hand from his sword, rubbed his
eyes like one newly awakened, and forced a parody of a smile.

"I have been asleep," he stammered. "Forgive my inattention, gentlemen.
You were saying . . . Ha ha! I see! A devilish good joke, sir. I
dreamed I was a blacksmith and woke to believe I had fallen in the
fire."

The hobbledehoys were sober enough to be a little nonplussed at this
reception of their pleasantry. They stood staring sheepishly, all but
one who wore a mask and a nightcap, as if he had just come from a
mumming show. To judge by his voice he seemed older than the rest.

"Tell us your dreams," he said rudely. "From your talk in your sleep
they should have been full of treason. Who may you be, sir?"

Alastair, at sight of a drawer's face round the corner of the tap-room
door, called for a bowl of punch.

"Who am I?" he said quietly. "A traveller who has acquired a noble
thirst, which he would fain share with other good fellows."

"Your name, my thirsty friend?"

"Why, they call me Watson--Andrew Watson, and my business is to serve
his Grace of Queensberry, that most patriotic nobleman." He spoke from
a sudden fancy, rather than from any purpose; it was not likely that he
could be controverted, for Mr Kyd was now posting into Wiltshire.

His questioner looked puzzled, but it was obvious that the name of a
duke, and Queensberry at that, had made an impression upon the company.
The man spoke aside with a friend, and then left the kitchen. This was
so clear a proof that there had been purpose in his baiting that
Alastair could have found it in him to laugh at such clumsy
conspirators. Somehow word had been sent of his coming, and there had
been orders to entangle him; but the word had not been clear and his
ill-wishers were still in doubt about his identity. It was his business
in no way to enlighten them, but he would have given much to discover
the informant.

He had forgotten about the mentor at his elbow. Turning suddenly, he
was confronted with the queer figure of the tutor of Chastlecote, who
was finishing a modest supper of bread and cheese at the main table.
The man's clothes were shabbier than ever, but his face and figure were
more wholesome than at Cornbury. His cheeks had a faint weathering, his
neck was less flaccid, and he held himself more squarely. As Alastair
turned, he also swung round, his left hand playing a tattoo upon his
knee. His eye was charged with confidences.

"We meet again," he whispered. "Ever since we parted I have had a
premonition of this encounter. I have much for your private ear."

But it was not told, for the leader of the hobbledehoys, the fellow
with the mask and nightcap, was again in the kitchen. It looked as if
he had been given instructions by someone, for he shouted, as a man
does when he is uncertain of himself and would keep up his courage.

"Gentlefolk all, there are vipers among us to-night. This man who calls
himself a duke's agent, and the hedge schoolmaster at his elbow. They
are naught but lousy Jacobites and 'tis our business as good Englishmen
to strip and search them."

The others of his party cried out in assent, and there was a measure of
support from the company at large. But before a man could stir the
tutor spoke.

"Bad law!" he said. "I and, for all I know, the other gentleman are
inoffensive travellers moving on our lawful business. You cannot lay
hand on us without a warrant from a justice. But, sirs, I am not one to
quibble about legality. This fellow has insulted me grossly and shall
here and now be brought to repentance. Put up your hands, you rogue."

The tutor had suddenly become a fearsome figure. He had risen from his
chair, struggled out of his coat, and, blowing like a bull, was
advancing across the floor on his adversary, his great doubled fists
held up close to his eyes. The other gave ground.

"I do not fight with scum," he growled. But as the tutor pressed on
him, his hand went to his sword.

He was not permitted to draw it. "You will fight with the natural
weapon of Englishmen," his assailant cried, and caught the sword strap
and broke it, so that the weapon clattered into a corner and its wearer
spun round like a top. The big man seemed to have the strength of a
bull. "Put up your hands," he cried again, "or take a coward's
drubbing."

The company was now in high excitement, and its sympathies were mainly
against the challenged. Seeing this, he made a virtue of necessity,
doubled his fists, ducked and got in a blow on the tutor's brisket. The
latter had no skill, but immense reach and strength and the uttermost
resolution. He simply beat down the other's guard, reckless of the
blows he received, and presently dealt him such a clout that he
measured his length on the floor, whence he rose sick and limping and
departed on the arm of a friend. The victor, his cheeks mottled red and
grey and his breath whistling like the wind in a chimney, returned amid
acclamation to the fireside, where he accepted a glass of Alastair's
punch.

For a moment the haggardness was wiped from the man's face, and it
shone with complacence. His eyes shot jovial but martial glances at the
company.

"We have proved our innocence," he whispered to Alastair. "Had you used
sword or pistol you would have been deemed spy and foreigner, but a
bout of fisticuffs is the warrant of the true-born Englishman."



_VI_      _Introduces the Runaway Lady_


Alastair stole a glance at his neighbour's face and found it changed
from their first meeting. It had lost its dumb misery and--for the
moment--its grey pallor. Now it was flushed, ardent, curiously
formidable, and, joined with the heavy broad shoulders, gave an
impression of truculent strength.

"I love to bandy such civilities," said the combatant. "I was taught to
use my hands by my uncle Andrew, who used to keep the ring at
Smithfields. We praise the arts of peace, but the keenest pleasure of
mankind is in battles. You, sir, follow the profession of arms. Every
man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier."

He helped himself to the remainder of the bowl of punch, which he
gulped down noisily. Alastair was in two minds about his new
acquaintance. The man's simplicity and courage and honest friendliness
went to his heart, but he was at a loss in which rank of society to
place him. Mr Johnson spoke with a queer provincial accent--to him
friend was "freend" and a shire a "sheer"--and his manners were those
of a yokel, save that they seemed to spring from a natural singularity
rather than from a narrow experience, for at moments he had a fine
dignity, and his diction was metropolitan if his pronunciation was
rustic. The more the young man looked at the weak heavy-lidded eyes and
the massive face, the more he fell under their spell. The appearance
was like a Moorish palace--outside, a bleak wall which had yet a
promise of a treasure-house within.

"What of your errand?" he asked. "When we last parted you were in quest
of a runaway lady."

"My quest has prospered, though I have foundered a good horse over it,
and when I have paid for this night's lodging, shall have only a
quarter-guinea to take me back to Chastlecote. Why, sir, since you are
kind enough to interest yourself in this affair, you shall be told of
it. Miss Grevel is duly and lawfully wed and is now my lady Norreys.
Sir John has gone north on what he considers to be his duty. He is, as
you are aware, a partisan of the young Prince. My lady stays behind;
indeed she is lodged not a mile from this inn in the house of her
mother's brother, Mr Thicknesse."

"Then you are easier in mind about the business?"

"I am easier in mind. The marriage was performed as decently as was
possible for a thing so hastily contrived. He has behaved to the lady
in all respects with courtesy and consideration, and he has shown the
strength of his principles by departing at once to the camp of his
Prince. I am disposed to think better of his character than I had been
encouraged to by rumour. And, sir, there is one thing that admits of no
shadow of doubt. The lady is most deeply in love."

"You have seen her?"

"This very day. She carries her head as if she wore a crown on it, and
her eyes are as happy as a child's. I did not venture to present
myself, for if she guessed that I had followed her she would have laid
a whip over my back." He stopped to laugh, with affection in his eyes.
"She has done it before, sir, for 'tis a high-spirited lady. So I
bribed a keeper with sixpence to allow me to watch from a covert, as
she took her midday walk. She moved like Flora, and she sang as she
moved. That is happiness, said I to myself, and whatever the faults of
the man who is its cause, 'twould be sacrilege to mar it. So I slipped
off, thanking my Maker that out of seeming ill the dear child had won
this blessedness."

Mr Johnson ceased to drum on the table or waggle his foot, and fell
into an abstraction, his body at peace, his eyes fixed on the fire in a
pleasant dream. The company in the kitchen had thinned to half a dozen,
and out-of-doors the din of the fair seemed to be dying down. Alastair
was growing drowsy, and he too fell to staring at the flames and seeing
pictures in their depths. Suddenly a hand was laid on his elbow and,
turning with a start, he found a lean little man on the form behind him.

"Be 'ee the Dook's man?" a cracked voice whispered.

Alastair puzzled, till he remembered that an hour back he had claimed
to be Queensberry's agent. So he nodded.

The little man thrust a packet into his hands.

"This be for 'ee," he said, and was departing, when Alastair plucked
his arm.

"From whom?" he asked.

"I worn't to say, but 'ee knows." Then he thrust forward a toothless
mouth to the other's ear. "From Brother Gilly," he whispered.

"And to whom were you sent?"

"To 'ee. To the Dook's man at the Dog and Gun. I wor to ask at the
landlord, but 'e ain't forthcoming, and one I knows and trusts points
me to 'ee."

Alastair realised that he was mistaken for Mr Nicholas Kyd, now posting
south; and, since the two were on the same business, he felt justified
in acting as Mr Kyd's deputy. He pocketed the package and gave the
messenger a shilling. At that moment Mr Johnson came out of his
reverie. His brow was clouded.

"At my lord Cornbury's house there was a tall man with a florid face.
He treated me with little politeness and laughed out of season. He had
a servant, too, a rough Scot who attended to my horse. I have seen that
servant in these parts."

Alastair woke to a lively interest. Then he remembered that Mr Kyd had
told him of a glimpse he had had of the tutor of Chastlecote. Johnson
had seen the man Edom before he had started south.

His thoughts turned to the packet. There could be no chance of
overtaking Mr Kyd, whose correspondent was so culpably in arrears. The
thing might be the common business of the Queensberry estates, in which
case it would be forwarded when he found an occasion. But on the other
hand it might be business of _Menelaus_, business of urgent import to
which Alastair could attend. . . . He debated the matter with
himself for a little, and then broke the seal.

The packet had several inclosures. One was in a cypher to which he had
not the key. Another was a long list of names, much contracted, with
figures in three columns set against each. The third riveted his eyes,
so that he had no ear for the noises of the inn or the occasional
remarks of his companion.

It was a statement, signed by the word _Tekel_ and indorsed with the
name of _Mene_--a statement of forces guaranteed from Wales and the
Welsh Marches. There could be no doubt about its purport. There was Sir
Watkin's levy and the day and the hour it would be ready to march; that
was a test case which proved the document authentic, for Alastair
himself had discussed provisionally these very details a week ago at
Wynnstay. There were other levies in money and men against the names of
Cotton, Herbert, Savage, Wynne, Lloyd, Powell. Some of the figures were
queried, some explicit and certified. There was a note about Beaufort,
promising an exact account within two days, which would be sent to
Oxford. Apparently the correspondent called Gilly, whoever he might be,
knew of Kyd's journey southward, but assumed that he had not yet
started. At the end were three lines of gibberish--a cypher obviously.

As his mind grasped the gist of the thing, a flush crept over his face
and he felt the beat of his heart quicken. Here was news, tremendous
news. The West was rising, careless of a preliminary English victory,
and waiting only the arrival of the Prince at some convenient
rendezvous. There were ten thousand men and half a million of money in
these lists, and they were not all. Beaufort was still to come, and
Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, and the Welsh south-west. The young
man's eyes kindled, and then grew a little dim. He saw the triumph of
his Prince, and the fulfilment of his dreams, for the war would no
longer be a foreign invasion but a rising of Englishmen. He remembered
Midwinter's words, "You can win only by enlisting Old England." It
looked as if it had been done. . . . He saw now why Kyd must linger
in the south. He was the conduit pipe of a vital intelligence which
must go to the Prince by the swiftest means, for on it all his strategy
depended. He himself would carry this budget, and for the others Kyd
had doubtless made his own plans. Even now Lancashire would be up, and
Cheshire stirring. . . .

The kitchen door was flung open with a violence which startled three
topers left by the table. A lantern wavered in the doorway, and in
front of it a square-set man in fustian stumped into the place. He
carried a constable's stave in one hand and in the other a paper.
Behind him a crowd followed, among which might be recognised the
mummers of the evening, notably the one whose bandaged face bore
witness to the strength of Mr Samuel Johnson's fist.

The constable marched up to the hearth.

"By these 'ere presents I lays 'old on the bodies of two suspected
pussons, to wit one Muck Lane, a Scotchman, and one Johnson, a
schoolmaster, they being pussons whose doings and goings and comings
are contrairy to the well-bein' of this 'ere realm and a danger to the
peace of our Lord the King."

The mention of himself by name showed Alastair that this was no affair
of village spy-hunters, but a major peril. In his hand he still held
the packet addressed to Kyd. Were he searched it might be damning
evidence; moreover he had already the best part of the intelligence
therein contained in his head. Mr Johnson, who was chilly, had just
flung on more logs and the fire blazed high. Into the red heart of it
went the paper and, since the tutor's bulky figure was between him and
the door, the act was not noticed by the constable and his followers.

"What whim of rascality is this?" asked Mr Johnson, reaching for a
stout oak stick which he had propped in a corner.

"A very troublesome whim for you," said a voice. "The constable holds a
warrant issued by Squire Thicknesse for the arrest of two Jacobite
emissaries traced into this village."

"Ay," said the constable, "'ee'd better come quiet, for Squire 'ave
sent a brave lot o' keepers and stable lads to manhandle 'ee if 'ee
don't. My orders is to carry 'ee to the Manor and lock 'ee up there
till such time as 'ee can be sent to Brumming'am."

"Arrant nonsense," cried Johnson. "I'm a better subject of His Majesty
than any rascal among you, and so, I doubt not, is my friend. Yet so
great is our veneration for the laws of England, that we will obey this
preposterous summons. Take me to your Squire, but be warned, every jack
of you, that if a man lays his hand on me I will fell him to the earth."

"And I say likewise," said Alastair, laying a significant hand on his
sword.

The constable, who had no great stomach for his duty, was relieved by
his prisoners' complaisance, and after some discussion with his friend
announced that no gyves should be used if they consented to walk with
the Squire's men on both sides of them. Alastair insisted on having his
baggage brought with him, which was duly delivered to one of the
Manor's grooms by a silent landlady; Mr Johnson carried his slender
outfit in his pockets. The landlord did not show himself. But at the
inn door, before the Manor men closed up, a figure pressed forward from
the knot of drunken onlookers, and Alastair found his sleeve plucked
and the face of Brother Gilly's messenger beside him.

"I've been mistook, maister. 'Ee bain't the Dook's man, not the one I
reckoned. Gimme back the letter."

"It's ashes now. Tell that to him that sent you. Say the letter's gone,
but the news travels forward in a man's head."

The messenger blinked uncomprehendingly and then made as if to repeat
his request, but a sudden rush of merrymakers, hungry for a fresh
spectacle, swept him down the street. Presently the escort was clear of
the village and tramping through a black aisle of trees. Someone lit a
lantern, which showed the mattress of chestnut leaves underfoot and the
bare branches above. The keepers and stable-boys whistled, and Mr
Johnson chanted aloud what sounded like Latin hexameters. For him there
was no discomfort in the adventure save that on a raw night it removed
him from a warm fireside.

But for Alastair the outlook was grave. Here was he arrested by a booby
constable on the warrant of some Justice Shallow, but arrested under
his own name. He had passed secretly from Scotland to Cornbury, and but
for the party at the latter place and one strange fellow on Otmoor, no
one had known that name. Could the news have leaked out from the
Cornbury servants? But, even then, he was not among the familiar
figures of Jacobitism, and he had but just come from France. Only Lord
Cornbury knew his true character, and Lord Cornbury did not talk. Yet
someone with full knowledge of his past and present had tracked him to
this village, a place far from any main highway to the North.

What he feared especially was delay. Unless Cornbury bore witness
against him, or the man from Otmoor, the law had no evidence worth a
farthing. Hearsay and suspicion could not hang him. He would play the
part of the honest traveller now returning from an Oxfordshire visit,
and if needs be he would refer to Queensberry's business. But hearsay
and suspicion could delay. He was suddenly maddened by the thought that
some bumbling Justice might detain him in these rotting midlands when
the Prince was crossing Ribble. And he had to get north with the news
of the Welsh recruiting! At the thought he bit his lips in a sharp
vexation.

They passed through gates into a park where the trees fell back from
the road, and presently were in a flagged courtyard with a crack of
light showing from a door ajar. It opened and a portly butler filled it.

"You will await his honour in the Justice Room," he announced, and the
prisoners swung to the right under an archway into another quadrangle.

The Justice Room proved to be a bare apartment, smelling strongly of
apples, with a raised platform at one end and on the floor a number of
wooden forms arranged like the pens at a sheep fair. On the platform
stood a large handsome arm-chair covered in Spanish leather, and before
it a small table. The butler entered by a door giving on the platform,
and on the table placed a leather-bound book and on the chair a red
velvet cushion.

"Exit the clerk, enter the preacher," said Johnson.

The servant, bowing profoundly, ushered in a tall gentleman in a suit
of dark-blue velvet, with a fine lace cravat falling over a waistcoat
of satin and silver. The gentleman might have been fifty years of age
by the lines round his mouth, but his cherubic countenance was
infantine in contour, and coloured, by hunting or the bottle, to an
even pink. He had clearly been dining well, for he plumped down heavily
in the chair and his eye was as blue and vacant as a frosty sky. When
he spoke it was with the careful enunciation of one who is not in a
condition to take liberties with the English tongue.

"Makin' so bold, your honour," said the constable, "them 'ere's the
prisoners as is named in your honour's worshipful warrant."

His honour nodded. "What the devil do you want me to do, Perks?" he
asked.

The mummer with the broken head, who had become mysteriously one of the
party, answered.

"Lock 'em up for to-night, Squire Thicknesse, and to-morrow send 'em to
Birmingham with a mounted escort. It's political business, and no
matter of poaching or petty thieving."

"I require that the charge be read," said Johnson.

Squire Thicknesse took up a paper, looked at it with aversion, and
gazed round him helplessly. "Where the devil is my clerk?" he lamented.
"Gone feasting to Flambury, I'll warrant. I cannot read this damned
crabbed hand."

"Let me be your clerk, Nunkie dear."

A girl had slipped through the door, and now stood by the chair looking
over the Squire's shoulder. She was clearly very young, for her lips
had the pouting fullness and her figure the straight lines of a
child's, and her plain white gown and narrow petticoats had a nursery
simplicity. The light was bad, and Alastair could not note the details,
seeing only a glory of russet hair and below it a dimness of pearl and
rose. On that much he was clear, and on the bird-like charm of her
voice.

The effect of the vision on Johnson was to make him drive an elbow into
Alastair's ribs and to murmur in what was meant for a whisper: "That is
my lady. That is the dear child."

The sharp young eyes had penetrated the gloom below the platform.

"Why, Nunkie, there is a face I know. Heavens! It is our tutor from
Chastlecote. Old Puffin we called him, for he puffs like my spaniel. A
faithful soul, Nunkie, but at times oppressive. What can he want so far
from home?"

The mummer, who seemed to have assumed the duties of prosecution,
answered:

"The man Johnson is accused of being act and part with the other in
conspiracy against His Majesty's throne."

The girl's laughter trilled through the place. "Oh, what delectable
folly! Mr Samuel a conspirator! He is too large and noisy, Nunkie, and
far, far too much of a sobersides. But give me the paper and I will be
your clerk."

With disquiet and amazement Alastair listened to the record. His full
name was set down and his rank in King Louis' service. His journey into
Oxfordshire was retailed, and its purpose, but the name of Cornbury was
omitted. Then followed his expedition into Wales, with special mention
of Wynnstay, and last his urgent reasons for returning north. Whoever
had compiled the indictment was most intimately informed of all his
doings. His head swam, for the thing seemed starkly incredible, and the
sense of having lived unwittingly close to a deadly foe affected him
with something not far from fear.

"What do you say to that?" Squire Thicknesse asked.

"That it is some foolish blunder. You have laid hold on the wrong man,
sir, and I admit no part of it except the name, which is mine, and,
with deference, as ancient and unsmirched as your honour's. No single
fact can be adduced to substantiate these charges."

"They will be abundantly proven." The mummer's voice croaked ominous as
a raven's.

The charge against Johnson proved to be much flimsier, and was derided
by the girl. "I insist that you straightly discharge my Mr Samuel," she
cried. "I will go bail for his good behaviour, and to-morrow a servant
shall take him back to Chastlecote. He is too innocent to be left
alone. The other----"

"He says he is an agent of the Duke of Queensberry," said the
relentless mummer. "I can prove him to be a liar."

The girl was apparently not listening. Her eyes had caught Alastair's
and some intelligence seemed to pass from them to his. She spoke a word
in the Squire's ear and then looked beyond the prisoners to the mummer.

"My uncle, who is known for his loyalty to the present Majesty, will
take charge of the younger prisoner and send him safe to-morrow to
Birmingham. The other he will discharge. . . . That is your will,
Nunkie?"

The Squire nodded. He was feeling very sleepy and at the same time very
thirsty, and his mind hovered between bed and a fresh bottle.

"You may go home now, friends," she said, "and sweet dreams to you.
You, constable, bring the two men to the Great Hall." Then she slipped
an arm inside her uncle's. "My Mr Sam shall sup in the buttery and have
a bed from Giles. To-morrow we will find him a horse. You are a wise
judge, Nunkie, and do not waste your wisdom on innocents. The other man
looks dangerous and must be well guarded. Put him in the Tower garret,
and give Giles the key. But first let the poor creature have bite and
sup, if he wants it. He has the air of a gentleman."

As Alastair walked before the staff of the constable, who wielded it
like an ox-goad, his mind was furiously busy at guessing the source of
the revelations in the warrant. Not till they stood in the glow of the
hall lights did the notion of Kyd's servant come to him by the process
of exhausting other possibilities. But the man had set off with Kyd
early that morning for the South from a place forty miles distant. It
was a naked absurdity, but nevertheless he asked Johnson the question,
"Where did you see the serving man who took your horse at Cornbury?"

The answer staggered him. "This very day at the gate of this place
about an hour after noon."

As his perturbed gaze roamed round the hall he caught again the eye of
the girl, looking back with her foot on the staircase. This time there
could be no mistake. Her face was bright with confidential friendliness.



_VII_      _How a Man May Hunt with the Hounds and yet Run with the
Hare_


The butler Giles conducted him through long corridors to the door which
separated the manor proper from its ancient Edwardian tower, and then
up stone stairways to a room under the roof which had once been the
sleeping apartment of the lord of the castle. The walls were two yards
thick, the windows mere slits for arrows, the oaken floor as wavy as a
ploughland. He had refused supper and asked only peace to collect his
wits. Giles set a candle down on an oak table, and nodded to a
cavernous canopied bed. "There's blankets enow to keep you warm, since
the night be mild for the time o' year. Good sleep to ye and easy
dreams." The key turned in the lock, and the shuffle of heelless shoes
died on the stair.

Alastair flung himself on the bed, and lay staring at the roof of the
canopy, fitfully illumined by the dancing candle. A light wind must
have crept into the room from some cranny of the windows, for the flame
flickered and queer shadows chased each other over the dark walls. He
was in a torment of disquietude since hearing the warrant--not for his
own safety, for he did not despair of giving these chaw-bacons the
slip, but for the prospects of the Cause. There was black treason
somewhere in its innermost councils. The man who had betrayed every
danger-point in his own career could do the same thing for others. The
rogue--Kyd's servant or whoever he might be--was in the way of knowing
the heart of every secret. Kyd, charged with a most vital service on
which the future of England hung, had this Judas always at his elbow to
frustrate or falsify any message to the North, to play the devil with
the Prince's recruiting, and at the end to sell his master's head for
gold. The thought made the young man dig his nails into his palms.
God's pity that in an affair so gossamer-fine there should be this rude
treachery to rend the web. . . . But if the miscreant was Kyd's
servant, how came he in this neighbourhood? Had he been dismissed Kyd's
service? Or was Kyd himself at hand and the journey into Wiltshire
relinquished? His mind was in utter confusion.

Nevertheless the discovery had quickened his spirit, which of late he
thought had been growing languid. He was a campaigner, and made his
plans quick. His immediate duty was to escape, his next to reach the
Prince and concert measures to meet the case of West England. Fortunate
for him that the letter of Brother Gilly had fallen into his hand, for
now he knew the magnitude of the business. But first he must sleep, for
all evening he had been nodding. He had the soldier's trick of
snatching odd hours of slumber, so, drawing a blanket round him and
resolutely shutting off all thoughts, he was soon unconscious.

He slept lightly, and woke to see the candle, which he had left
burning, guttering over the edge of the iron candlestick. A swift
shadow ran across the wall before him, and a sudden waft of air caused
the candle-end to flare like a torch. He glanced at the door, and it
seemed to move. Then the place was quiet again, but it was brighter,
for a new light had come into it. He scrambled from the bed to see the
glow of a shaded lantern, and a slim cloaked figure slipping the key
from the door.

The lantern was set beside the candle on the table. The figure wore a
furred bed-gown and a nightcap of lace and pink satin, and its brown
eyes in the shadow were bright as a squirrel's and very merry.

"La, la, such a commotion ere I could come to you, sir," she said.
"Giles must carry Nunkie to bed and hoist Squire Bretherton and Sir
Ambrose on their horses, and get a message from me to Black Ben, and
pass a word to Stable Bill about Moonbeam. You have slept, wise man
that you are? But it is time to be about your business of escaping, for
in three hours it will be daylight."

She was like a pixie in the half darkness, a tall pixie, that had a
delicious small stammer in its speech. Alastair was on his feet now,
bowing awkwardly.

"Tell me," she whispered. "The warrant is true? You are Alastair
Maclean, a captain in Lee's Regiment of France, and a messenger from
the Prince in Scotland. Oh, have no fear of me, for I am soul and body
for the Cause."

"The warrant spoke truly," he said.

"And you will join the Prince at the first possible moment? How go
things in the North? Have you any news, sir?"

"The Prince crossed the Border yesterday. He marches to Lancashire."

She twined her fingers in excitement. "You dare not delay an hour. And
you shall not. I have made everything ready. Sir, you will find I have
made everything ready. See, you shall follow me downstairs and Giles
will be waiting. The lock of your door fits badly, for the wood around
is worm-eaten. To-morrow it will be lying on the floor, to show my
uncle how you escaped. Giles will take you by a private way to the Yew
Avenue, and there Bill from the stables will await you with Moonbeam
saddled and ready--my uncle's favourite, no less. You will ride down
the avenue very carefully, keeping on the grass and making no sound,
till you reach the white gate which leads to Wakehurst Common. There
Ben will meet you and guide you out of this county so that by the
evening you may be in Cheshire."

"Ben the Gypsy?" he asked.

"The same. Do you know him? He is on our side and does many an errand
for me."

"But, madam, what of yourself? What will your uncle say when he finds
his horse gone?"

"Stolen by the gypsies--I have the story pat. There will be a pretty
hue and cry, but Ben will know of its coming and take precautions. I am
grieved to tell fibs, but needs must in the day of war."

"But I leave you alone to face the consequences."

"Oh, do not concern yourself for me. My dear uncle is indulgent and,
though a Whig, is no bigot. He will not grieve for your absence at
breakfast to-morrow. But I fear the loss of Moonbeam will put him
terribly out, and I should be obliged if you could find some way of
restoring his horse when his purpose is served. As for myself, I
propose leaving this hospitable house no later than to-morrow and
journeying north into Derbyshire. I will take Mr Johnson with me as
company and protector, and I have also my servants from Weston."

She spoke with the air of a commander-in-chief, an air so mature and
mistressly that it betrayed her utter youth.

"I am most deeply beholden to you, my lady," said Alastair. "You know
something of me, and I will beg in return some news of my benefactress.
You are my lady Norreys?"

The matronly airs fled and she was a shy child again.

"I am m-my lady," she stammered, "this week back. How did you know,
sir? The faithful Puffin? My dear Sir John has gone north to join his
Prince, by whose side you will doubtless meet him. Tell him I too have
done my humble mite of service to the Cause, and that I am well, and
happy in all things but his absence. . . . See, I have written him a
little letter which will serve equally to present you to him and to
assure him of my love. He is one of you--one of the trusted inner
circle, I mean." She lowered her voice. "He bears the name of
_Achilles_."

The hazel eyes had ceased to sparkle and become modest and dim.

"Tell me one thing, my lady, before I go. My mission to the South was
profoundly secret, and not four men in the Prince's army knew of it.
Yet I find myself and my doings set forth in a justice's warrant as if
I had cried them in the streets. There is a traitor abroad and if he
goes undetected he spells ruin to our Cause. Can you help me to unearth
him?"

She wrinkled her brows and narrowed her startled eyes.

"I cannot guess. Save you and Sir John I have seen no professor of our
faith. Stay, who was the mummer last night in the Justice Room?"

"Some common jackal of Hanover. No, the danger is not there. But,
madam, you have a quick brain and a bold heart. If you can lay your
finger on this fount of treason, you will do a noble work for our
Prince. Have you the means to send a message to the North?"

She nodded. "Assuredly--by way of Sir John. . . . But you must start
forthwith, sir. I will take your mails into Derbyshire in my charge,
for you must ride fast and light. Now, follow me, and tread softly when
I lift my hand."

Down the long stone stairs the lantern fluttered, and at a corner the
man who followed caught a glimpse of bare rosy ankles above the furred
slippers. In the manor galleries, where oaken flooring creaked, a hand
was now and then raised to advise caution. Once there came the slamming
of a door, and the lantern-bearer froze into stillness behind an
armoire, while Alastair, crouched beside her, felt the beating of her
heart. But without mishap they reached the Great Hall, where the last
red embers crackled fitfully and a cricket ticked on the hearthstone.
Through a massive door they entered another corridor and the girl
whistled long and soft. The answer was a crack of light from a side
door, and Giles appeared, cloaked like a conspirator and carrying a
pewter candlestick. Gone was the decorum of the butler who had set the
stage in the Justice Room, and it was a nervous furtive old serving-man
who received the girl's instructions.

"Oh, my lady, I'm doing this for your mother's sake, her as I used to
make posies for when I was no more'n buttery lad. But my knees do knock
together cruel, for what Squire would say if he knew makes my blood
freeze to think on."

"Now, don't be a fool, Giles. I can manage your master, and you have
nothing to do but lead this gentleman to the Yew Avenue, and then back
to your bed with a clear conscience."

She laid a hand on the young man's arm--the gesture with which a boy
encourages a friend.

"Adieu, sir, and I pray God that He lead you swift and straight to your
journey's end. I will be in Derbyshire--at Brightwell under the Peak,
waiting to bid you welcome when you come south to the liberation of
England." He took her hand, kissed it, and, with a memory of wistful
eyes and little curls that strayed from her cap's lace and satin, he
followed the butler through the kitchen postern into the gloom of the
night.

A short and stealthy journey among shrubberies brought them to a deeper
blackness which proved to be a grove of yews. Something scraped and
rustled close ahead, and the hoarse whisper of Giles received a hoarse
answer. The night was not so dark as to hide objects outside the shade
of the trees, and on a patch of grass Alastair made out a horse with a
man beside it. Bill the stableman put the bridle into his hand, after
making certain by a word with Giles that he was the person awaited.
Alastair found a guinea for each, and before their muttered thanks were
done was in the saddle, moving, as he had been instructed, into the
blackness of the great avenue.

The light mouth, the easy paces, the smooth ripple of muscle under his
knees told him that he was mounted on no common horse, but his head was
still too full of his late experience to be very observant about the
present. The nut-brown girl, the melodious voice with a stammer like a
break in a nightingale's song, seemed too delicious and strange for
reality. And yet she was flesh and blood; he had felt her body warm
against his when they sheltered behind the armoire: it was her doing
that he was now at liberty and posting northward. Now he understood Mr
Johnson's devotion. To serve such a lady he would himself scale the
blue air and plough the high hills, as the bards sang.

The bemusement took him down the avenue till the trees thinned out and
on the right came the ghostly glimmer of a white gate. He turned and
found it open, and by it another horseman.

"The gentleman from Miss Claudy--beg y'r pardon--from m'lady?" a voice
asked.

"The same," Alastair replied. The speech was that of the gypsy he had
met the day before.

The man shut the gate with his whip. "Then follow me close and not a
cheep o' talk. We've some cunning and fast journeying to do before the
day breaks."

They swept at a canter down a long lane, deeply rutted, and patched
here and there with clumps of blackberries. Then they were on a heath,
where the sky was lighter and the road had to be carefully picked round
sandpits and quarry-holes. Alastair had no guess at direction, for the
sky showed never a star, and though the dark was not impenetrable it
was hopeless to look for landmarks. A strange madcap progress they made
over every kind of country, now on road, now in woodland, now breasting
slopes of heath with the bracken rubbing on the stirrups. Oftenest they
were in forest land, where sometimes there was no path and Alastair
found it best to give his horse its head and suffer it to do the
steering. He had forgotten that England could be so wild, for these
immense old boles and the miles of thicket and mere belonged surely to
a primeval world. Again the course would be over fallow and new plough,
and again in lanes and parish roads and now and then on the turnpike.
The pace was easy--a light canter, but there were no halts, and always
ahead over hedge and through gap went the slim figure of the gypsy.

The air was chilly but not cold, and soon the grey cloth of darkness
began to thin till it was a fine veil dimming but not hiding objects,
and the light wind blew which even on the stillest night heralds the
dawn. The earth began to awake, lights kindled in farms and cottages,
lanterns flickered around steadings. Movement through this world just
struggling out of sleep was a joy and an exhilaration. It reminded
Alastair of a winter journey from Paris to Beauvais--part of a Prince's
wager--when with relays of horses he had ridden down the night, through
woods and hamlets dumb with snow, intoxicated with his youth, and
seeing mystery in every light that glimmered out of the dark. Now he
was in the same mood. His spirits rose at the signs of awaking
humanity. That lantern by a brook was a shepherd pulling hay for the
tups now huddled in the sheep-cote. The light at that window was the
goodwife grilling bacon for the farmer's breakfast, or Blowselinda of
the Inn sweeping the parlour after the night's drinking. And through
that homely ritual of morn he was riding north to the Wars which should
upturn thrones and make nobles of plain captains. Youth! Romance! And
somewhere in the background of his brain a voice sounded like a trill
of music. "Adieu, sir. I pray God . . . I go to B-Brightwell under
the P-Peak . . ."

The light had grown and he had his first view of Black Ben, and Ben of
him. They jostled at a gate and stared at each other.

"We meet again," he said.

"Happy meeting, my dear good gentleman. But you were on a different
errand yesterday when my duty drove me the way of hot ashes. No offence
took along of a poor man's honesty, kind sir?"

"None," said Alastair. He saw now the reason for the gypsy's presence
with the recruits. He was in Jacobite pay, hired to scatter
Oglethorpe's levies and so reduce Wade's command. But none the less he
disliked the man--his soft sneering voice, and the shifty eyes which he
remembered from yesterday.

It was now almost broad day, about eight in the morning, and Alastair
reckoned that they must have travelled twenty miles and be close on the
Cheshire border. The country was featureless--much woodland
interspersed with broad pastures, and far to the east a lift of ground
towards a range of hills. The weather was soft and clear, a fine
scenting morning for the hunt, and far borne on the morning air came
the sound of a horn.

The gypsy seemed to be at fault. He stopped and considered for a matter
of five minutes with his ear cocked. Then he plunged into a copse and
emerged in a rushy bottom between high woods. Here the sound of the
horn was heard again, apparently from the slopes at the end of the
bottom.

"The turnpike runs yonder at the back of the oak clump," he said. "Best
get to it by the brook there and the turf bridge. I must leave you,
pretty gentleman. You take the left turn and hold on, and this night
you will sleep in Warrington."

They were jogging towards the brook when Alastair took a fancy to look
back, and saw between the two woods a tiny landscape neatly framed in
the trees. There was a church tower in it, and an oddly shaped clump of
ashes. Surely it was familiar.

Across the brook the hunting horn sounded again, this time from beyond
a spinney at the top of the slope.

"There lies your road, pretty sir," and the gypsy pointed to the left
of the spinney and wheeled his horse to depart.

But Alastair was looking back again. The higher ground of the slope
gave him a wider prospect, and he saw across one of the enclosing woods
the tall chimneys of a great house. That did not detain his eye, which
was caught by something beyond. There on a low ridge was sprawled a big
village with square-towered church and a blur of smoke above the line
of houses. England must be a monotonous land, for this village of
Cheshire was the very image of Flambury, and the adjacent mansion might
have been Squire Thicknesse's manor.

At the same moment the music of hounds crashed from the spinney ahead,
and a horn was violently blown. Round the edge of the spinney came the
hunt, and the pack was spilled out of its shade like curds from a
broken dish. The sight, novel in his experience, held him motionless.
He saw the huntsman struggling with outrunners, and the field, urged on
by the slope, crowding on the line. In the rear he saw a figure which
was uncommonly like the magistrate who had presided last night in the
Justice-room. As he observed these things he realised that his twenty
miles of the morning had been a circuit, and that he was back now at
the starting-point, mounted on a stolen horse, and within a hundred
yards of the horse's owner. The gypsy had set spurs to his beast and
was disappearing round the other end of the spinney, and even in the
hubbub of the hunt he thought he detected the man's mocking laugh.

To hesitate was to be lost, and there was but the one course open. A
tawny streak had slid before the hounds towards the brook. That must be
the fox, and if he were not to become the quarry in its stead he must
join in the chase. The huntsman was soon twenty yards from him,
immediately behind the hounds, and fifty yards at his back came the van
of the field. In that van he could see Squire Thicknesse mounted on a
powerful grey, and he seemed to have eyes only for the hounds. Alastair
cut in well behind him, in the hope that he would be taken for a
straggler at covert-side, and in three seconds was sweeping forward in
the second flight.

The morning's ride had been for Moonbeam no more than a journey to the
meet, and the beautiful animal now laid back his ears and settled down
to his share in that game which he understood as well as any two-legged
mortal. But in the very perfection of the horse lay the rider's peril.
Moonbeam was accustomed to top the hunt, for Squire Thicknesse was
famed over three shires as a good goer. He would not be content to
travel a field or two behind hounds; he must keep them company.
Alastair found that no checking could restrain his mount. The animal
was lightly bitted and he had not the skill or the strength to hold him
back. True, he could have swerved and fetched a wide circuit, but in
that first rush these tactics did not suggest themselves, and he set
himself to a frantic effort at reining in, in which he was worsted.
Moonbeam crossed the brook like a swallow; in a boggy place he took off
badly, topped an ox-bar in the hedge, and all but fell on his nose in
the next meadow. But after that he made no mistake, and in five minutes
Alastair found himself looking from ten yards' distance at the broad
back of the huntsman, with no rider near him except Squire Thicknesse
on the grey.

The going was good over old pasture, and the young man had leisure to
recover his breath and consider his position. He had hunted buck in
France--stately promenades in the forests of Fontainebleau and
Chantilly, varied by mad gallops along grassy rides where the only risk
was the cannoning with other cavaliers. But this chase of the fox was a
very different matter, the glory of it went to his head like strong
wine, and he would not have cried off if he could. So far he was
undiscovered. Were the fumes of last night's revel still in the
Squire's head, or had he never meant to ride Moonbeam that day and his
groom kept the loss from him? Crossing a thickset hedge neck by neck,
Alastair stole a glance at him, and decided that the former explanation
was the true one. His late host was still in the process of growing
sober. . . . It could not last for ever. Sooner or later must come a
check or a kill, when he would have a chance to look at his neighbour
and his neighbour's horse. . . Then he must ride for it, become
himself the fox, and trust to Moonbeam. Pray God that the run took them
to the north and ended many miles from Flambury.

For the better part of an hour hounds ran without a check--away from
the enclosed fields and the woodlands to a country of furzy downs and
bracken-filled hollows, and then once more into a land of tangled
thickets. It took about twenty minutes to clear Squire Thicknesse's
brain. Alastair heard a sudden roar behind him and looked over his
shoulder to see a furious blue eye fixed on him, and to hear a bellow
of--"Damme, it's my horse. It's my little Moonbeam!" He saw a whip
raised, and felt it swish a foot from his leg. There was nothing for it
but to keep his distance from the wrathful gentleman, and so gallantly
did Moonbeam respond that he was presently at the huntsman's elbow.

Had he known it, the grey was the faster of the two, though lacking
Moonbeam's sweet paces and lionlike heart. His enemy was up on him at
once, and it looked as if there was nothing before him but to override
hounds. But the discipline of the sport was stronger than a just wrath.
The Squire took a pull on the grey and drew back. He was biding his
time.

Alastair seized the first chance, which came when hounds were engulfed
in a wide wood of oaks on the edge of a heath. Taking advantage of a
piece of thick cover, he caught Moonbeam by the head and swung him down
a side glade. Unfortunately he was observed. An oath from Squire
Thicknesse warned him that that sportsman had forgone the pleasure of
being in at the death for the satisfaction of doing justice on a
horse-thief.

Now there was no hunt etiquette to be respected. The grey's hooves
spurned the rotten woodland turf, and pursuer and pursued crashed into
a jungle of dry bulrushes and sallows. Alastair was saved by the
superior agility of his horse, which could swerve and pivot where the
heavier grey stumbled. He gained a yard or two, then a little more by a
scramble through a gap, and a crazy scurry down a rabbit
track. . . . He saw that his only chance was to slip off, for
Moonbeam had the madness of the chase on him, and if left riderless
would rejoin the hounds. So when he had gained some forty yards and was
for the moment out of the Squire's sight, he took his toes from the
stirrups and flung himself into a bed of bracken. He rolled over and
over into a dell, and when he came to a halt and could look up he saw
the grey's stern disappearing round the corner, and heard far off the
swish and crash of Moonbeam's flight.

Not a second was to be lost, for the Squire would soon see that the
rider had gone and turn back in the search for him. Alastair forced his
stiff legs to a run, and turned in the direction which he thought the
opposite of that taken by hounds. Up a small path he ran, among a scrub
of hazels and down into a desert of red bracken and sparse oak trees.
The noises in the wood grew fainter, and soon his steps were the
loudest sound, his steps and the heavy flight of an occasional scared
pigeon. He ran till he had put at least a mile of rough land behind
him, and had crossed several tracks, which would serve to mislead the
pursuit. Lacking a bloodhound, it would not be easy to follow his
trail. Then in a broader glade he came upon a thatched hovel, such as
foresters and charcoal-burners use when they have business abroad in
the night hours.

Alastair crept up to it cautiously, and through a crack surveyed the
interior. His face hardened and an odd light came into his eye. He
strode to the door and pushed the crazy thing open.

Within, breakfasting on a hunch of bread and cheese, sat the man Edom,
Mr Kyd's servant.



_VIII      Broom at the Cross-Roads_


The face before him had the tightened look of a sudden surprise: then
it relaxed into recognition; but it showed no fear, though the young
man's visage was grim enough.

"You are Mr Kyd's servant?"

"Your honour has it. I'm Edom Lowrie at your honour's service."

"Your master started yesterday for Wiltshire. Why are you not with him?"

The man looked puzzled.

"Ye're mista'en, sir. My master came here yestereen. I left him at
skreigh o'day this morning."

It was Alastair's turn to stare. Kyd had lied to him, thinking it
necessary to deceive him about his road--scurvy conduct, surely,
between servants of the same cause. Or perhaps this fellow Edom was
lying. He looked at him and saw no hint of double-dealing in the plain
ugly face. His sandy eyebrows were indistinguishable from his freckled
forehead and gave him an air of bald innocence, his pale eyes were
candid and good-humoured, the eaves of his great teeth were comedy
itself. The more Alastair gazed the harder he found it to believe that
this rustic zany had betrayed him. But what on earth was Kyd about?

"Where is your master now?" he asked.

The other took off his hat and scratched his head. "I wadna like to
say, sir. You see he telled me little, forbye sayin' that he wadna see
me again for the best pairt o' a month. I jalouse mysel' that he's gone
south, but he micht be for Wales."

"Were you in Flambury last night?"

The man looked puzzled till Alastair explained. "Na, na, I was in nae
village. I had a cauld damp bed in a bit public. My maister wasna
there, but he appeared afore I was out o' the blankets, a' ticht and
trim for the road, and gied me my marching-orders. I was to traivel the
woods on foot, and no get mysel' a horse till I won to a place they ca'
Camley."

"Are you for Scotland?"

"Nae sic fortune. I'm for the Derbyshire muirs wi' letters." He
hesitated. "Your honour's no gaun that road yoursel'? I wad be blithe
o' company."

The light in the hut was too dim to see clearly, for there was no
window, the door was narrow and the day was sullen.

"Step outside, Mr Lowrie, till I cast an eye over you," said Alastair.

The man pocketed the remains of his bread and cheese and shambled into
the open. He wore a long horseman's coat and boots, a plain hat without
cocks, and carried a stout hazel riding-switch. He looked less like a
lackey than some small yeoman of the Borders, habited for a journey to
Carlisle or St Boswell's Fair.

"You know who I am," said Alastair. "You are aware that like your
master I am in a certain service, and that between him and me there are
no secrets."

"Aye, sir. I ken that ye're Captain Maclean, and a gude Scot, though
ower far north o' Forth for my ain taste, if your honour will forgie
me."

"You carry papers? I must know more of your journey. What is your goal?"

"A bit the name o' Brightwell near a hill they ca' the Peak."

Alastair had not been prepared for this, had had no glimmering of a
suspicion of it, and the news decided him.

"It is of the utmost importance that I see your papers. Your master, if
he were here now, would consent."

The man's face flushed. "I kenna how that can be. Your honour wadna
have me false to my trust."

"You will not be false. You travel on a matter of the Prince's
interest, as I do, and I must know your errand fully in order to shape
my own course. Your master and I have equal rank in His Highness's
councils."

The other shook his head, as if perplexed. "Nae doot--nae doot. But, ye
see, sir, I've my orders, and I maun abide by them. 'Pit thae letters,'
my maister says, 'intil the hand of him ye ken o' and let naebody else
get a glisk o' them.'"

"Then it is my duty to take them by force," said Alastair, showing the
hilt of his sword and the butt of a pistol under his coat.

Edom's face cleared.

"That is a wiser-like way o' speakin'. If ye compel me I maun e'en
submit, for ye're a gentleman wi' a sword and I'm a landward body wi'
nocht but a hazel wand. It's no that I mistrust your honour, but we
maun a' preserve the decencies."

He unbuttoned his coat, foraged in the recesses of his person, and from
some innermost receptacle extracted a packet tied with a dozen folds of
cobbler's twine. There was no seal to break, and Alastair slit the
knots with his sword. Within was a bunch of papers of the same type as
those he had received from Brother Gilly, and burned in the fire of the
Dog and Gun. These he put in his pocket for further study. "I must read
them carefully, for they contain that which must go straight to the
Prince's ear," he told the perplexed messenger.

But there was a further missive, which seemed to be a short personal
note from Mr Kyd to the recipient of the papers.

"_Dear Achilles_," it ran. "_Affairs march smoothly and the tide SETS
well to bring you to Troy town, where presently I design to crack a
bottle and exchange tales. The Lady Briseis purposes to join you and
will not be dissuaded by her kinsman. A friendly word:_ _mix caution
with your ardour her-ward, for she has got a political enthusiasm and
is devilish strong-headed. The news of the Marches and the West will
travel to you with all expedition, but I must linger behind to
encourage my correspondents. Menelaus greets you--a Menelaus that never
owned a Helen._"

The full sense of the document did not at first reach Alastair's brain.
But he caught the word "_Achilles_," and remembered a girl's whispered
confidence the night before. A second phrase arrested
him--"Briseis"--he remembered enough of Father Dominic's teaching to
identify the reference. This Norreys, this husband of the russet lady,
was far deeper in the secrets of the Cause than he had dreamed, if he
were thus made the channel of vital intelligence. He was bidden act
cautiously towards his new wife, and Mr Kyd, who had heard Johnson's
accusations at Cornbury and said nothing, had all the time been in
league with him. A sudden sense of a vast insecurity overcame the young
man. The ground he trod on seemed shifting sand, and nowhere was there
a firm and abiding landmark. And the girl too was walking in dark ways,
and when she thought that she tripped over marble and cedar was in
truth skimming the crust of quicksands. He grew hot with anger.

"Do you know the man to whom these are addressed?" he asked with stern
brows.

Edom grinned.

"I ken how to find him. I'm to speir in certain quarters for ane
Achilles, and I mind eneuch o' what the Lauder dominie lickit intil me
to ken that Achilles was a braw sodger."

"You do not know his name? You never saw him?"

The man shook his head. "I wad like the letters back, sir," he
volunteered warily, for he was intimidated by Alastair's dark forehead.

The latter handed back the _Achilles_ letter, and began to read more
carefully the other papers. Suddenly he raised his head and listened.
The forest hitherto had been still with the strange dead quiet of a
November noon. But now the noise of hounds was heard again, not half a
mile off, as if they were hunting a line in the brushwood. He awoke
with a start to the fact of his danger. What better sport for the
patrons of the Flambury Hunt than to ride down a Jacobite horse-thief?
A vague fury possessed him against that foolish squire with the
cherubic face and the vacant blue eye.

"The hunt is cried after me," he told Edom, "and I take it you too have
no desire to advertise your whereabouts. For God's sake let's get out
of this place. Where does this road lead?"

Edom's answer was drowned in a hubbub of hounds which seemed to be
approaching down the ride from the east. Alastair led the way from the
hut up a steepish hill, sparsely wooded with scrub oak, in the hope of
finding a view-point. Unfortunately at the top the thicket was densest,
so the young man swung himself into a tree and as quickly as
riding-boots would permit sought a coign of vantage in its upper
branches. There he had the prospect he wanted--a great circle of
rolling country, most of it woodland, but patched with large heaths
where gorse-fires were smouldering. The piece of forest in which he sat
stretched far to east and west, but to the north was replaced in less
than a mile by pasture and small enclosures. As he looked he saw
various things to disquiet him. The grassy road they had left was
visible for half a mile, and down it came horsemen, while at the other
end there seemed to be a picket placed. Worse still, to the north,
which was the way of escape he had thought of, there were mounted men
at intervals along the fringe of the trees. The hounds could be heard
drawing near in the scrub east of the hut, and men's voices accompanied
them. He remembered that they would find the hut door open, see the
crumbs of Edom's bread and cheese, and no doubt discover the track
which led up the hill.

He scrambled to the ground, his heart filled with forebodings and a
deep disgust. He, who should long ago have been in the battle-field
among the leaders, was befogged in this remote country-side, pursued by
yokels, clogged and hampered at every step, and yet with the most
desperate urgency of haste to goad him forward. His pride was outraged
by such squalid ill-fortune. He must get his head from the net which
was entangling and choking him. But for the moment there was nothing
for it but to cower like a hare, and somewhere in the deep scrub find a
hiding-place. Happily a fox-hound was not a bloodhound.

Down the other side of the hill they went, Edom panting heavily and
slipping every second yard. At the bottom they came on another road
running parallel with the first, and were about to cross it when a
sound from in front gave them pause. There were men there, keepers
perhaps, beating the undergrowth and whistling. The two turned to the
west and ran down the track, keeping as far as possible in the shadow
of the adjacent coppice. A fine rain was beginning, which brought with
it a mist that lowered the range of vision to a few hundred yards. In
that lay Alastair's one hope. Let the weather thicken and he would
undertake to elude all the foresters and fox-hunters in England. He
cursed the unfamiliar land, which had no hills where fleetness of foot
availed or crags where a bold man could laugh at pursuit.

The place seemed terribly full of folk, as if whole parishes had
emptied their population to beat the covers. Now he realised that the
mist had its drawbacks as well as its merits, for he might stumble
suddenly into a posse of searchers, and, though he himself might
escape, the clumsier Edom would be taken. He bade the latter choose a
line of his own and save himself, as he was not the object of the hunt,
and owed his chief danger to his company, but this the man steadfastly
refused to do. He ploughed stubbornly along in Alastair's wake,
wheezing like a bellows.

Then the noises seemed to die down, and the two continued in a dripping
quiet. It was idle to think of leaving the forest, and the best that
could be done was to find a hiding-place when they were certain that
the pursuit was outdistanced. But this meant delay, and these slow
rustics might keep up their watch for a week. . . .

Presently they came to a cross-roads, where a broader path cut their
ride, and in the centre stood an old rotting stake, where long ago some
outlaw may have swung. They halted, for Edom had his breath to get. He
flung himself on the ground, and at that moment Alastair caught sight
of something tied to the post. Going nearer, he saw that it was a bunch
of broom.

Had his wits not been sharpened by danger and disgust it might have had
no meaning for him. But, as it was, Midwinter's parting words on Otmoor
came back to him, and with it the catch which he had almost forgotten.
As Edom lay panting, he shaped his lips to whistle the air. In the
quiet the tune rang out clear and shrill, and as he finished there was
silence again. Then the bushes parted, and a man came out.

He was a charcoal-burner, with a face like an Ethiopian, and red sore
eyes curiously ringed about with clean white skin.

"Ye have the tune, master," he said. "What be your commands for the
Spoonbills? Folks be huntin' these woods, and maybe it's you as they're
seekin'."

"The place is surrounded," said Alastair, "and they are beating the
covers between the rides. Get us out, or show us how we can be hid."

The man did not hesitate. "Escape's better'n hidin'," he said. "Follow
me, sirs, and I'll do my best for ye."

He led them at a great pace some two hundred yards into a tiny dell.
There a glaze hung in the dull air from a charcoal-oven, which glowed
under a mound of sods. Neat piles of oak and birch billets stood
around, and the shafts of a cart stuck up out of the long bracken. On
one side an outcrop of rock made a fine wind-shelter, and, pushing
aside the creepers which veiled it, the charcoal-burner revealed a
small cave.

"Off with your clothes, sirs," he said. "They'll be safe enough in that
hidy-hole till I gets a chance to return 'em. Them rags is my mates',
and in this pickle are better'n fine silks."

Two filthy old smocks were unearthed, and two pairs of wooden-soled
clogs which replaced their boots. The change was effected swiftly under
the constant urging of the charcoal-burner, who kept his ears cocked
and his head extended like a dog. In five minutes Alastair was
outwardly a figure differing only in complexion from the master of the
dingle. Then the latter set to work, and with a handful of hot charcoal
smeared hands and faces, rubbing the dirt into the eye-sockets so that
the eyes smarted and watered. Hats and cravats were left in the cave,
and Alastair's trim hair was roughly clubbed, and dusted with soot for
powder. There was no looking-glass to show him the result, but the
charcoal-burner seemed satisfied. The transformation was simpler for
Edom, who soon to Alastair's eyes looked as if he had done nothing all
his days but tend a smoky furnace.

"I'll do the talking if we happen to meet inquiring folk," the
charcoal-burner admonished them. "Look sullen and keep your eyes on the
ground, and spit--above all, spit. Ours is a dry trade."

He led them back to the main ride, and then boldly along the road which
pointed north. The forest had woke up, and there were sounds of life on
every side. The hounds had come out of covert and were being coaxed in
again by a vociferous huntsman. Echoes of "Sweetlip," "Rover,"
"Trueman," mingled with sundry oaths, came gustily down the wind.
Someone far off blew a horn incessantly, and in a near thicket there
was a clamour of voices like those of beaters after roebuck. The three
men tramped stolidly along, the two novices imitating as best they
could the angular gait, as of one who rarely stretched his legs, and
the blindish carriage of the charcoal-burner.

A knot of riders swept down on them. Alastair ventured to lift his eyes
for one second, and saw the scarlet and plum colour of Squire
Thicknesse and noted the grey's hocks. The legs finicking and waltzing
near them he thought belonged to Moonbeam, and was glad that the horse
had been duly caught and restored. The Squire asked a question of the
charcoal-burner and was answered in a dialect of gutturals. Off surged
the riders, and presently the three were at the edge of the trees where
a forester's cottage smoked in the rain. Beyond, wrapped in a white
mist, stretched ploughland and pasture.

Alastair saw that his tree-top survey had been right. This edge of the
wood was all picketed, and as the three emerged a keeper in buckskin
breeches came towards them, and a man on horseback turned at his cry
and cantered back.

The keeper did not waste time on them, once he had a near view.

"Yah!" he said, "it's them salvages o' coalies. They ain't got eyes to
obsarve nothin', pore souls! 'Ere, Billy," he cried, "seen any strange
gen'elmen a-wanderin' the woods this morning?"

The charcoal-burner stopped, and the two others formed up sullenly
behind him.

"There wor a fallow-buck a routin' round my foorness," he grumbled in a
voice as thick as clay. "Happen it come to some 'urt, don't blame me,
gossip. Likewise there's a badger as is makin' an earth where my
birch-faggots should lie. That's all the strange gen'elmen I seen this
marnin', barrin' a pack o' red-coats a-gallopin' 'orses and blowin'
'orns."

The rider had now arrived and was looking curiously at the three. The
keeper in corduroy breeches turned laughing to him. "Them coalies is
pure salvages, Mr Gervase, sir. Brocks and bucks, indeed, when I'm
inquirin' for gen'elmen. Gawd A'mighty made their 'eads as weak as
their eyes."

What answer the rider gave is not known, for the charcoal-burners had
already moved forward. They crossed a piece of plough and reached a
shallow vale seamed by a narrow stagnant brook. Here they were in
shelter, and to Alastair's surprise their leader began to run. He took
them at a good pace up the water till it was crossed by a high-road,
then along a by-path, past a farm-steading, to a strip of woodland,
which presently opened out into a wide heath. Here in deference to
Edom's heaving chest he slackened pace. The rain was changing from a
drizzle to a heavy downpour and the faces of the two amateurs were
becoming a ghastly piebald with the lashing of the weather.

The charcoal-burner turned suddenly to Alastair and spoke in a voice
which had no trace of dialect.

"You have escaped one danger, sir. I do not know who you may be or what
your desires are, but I am bound to serve you as far as it may lie in
my power. Do you wish me to take you to my master?"

"I could answer that better, if I knew who he was."

"We do not speak his name at large, but in a month's time the festival
of his name-day will return."

Alastair nodded. The thought of Midwinter came suddenly to him with an
immense comfort. He, if anyone could, would help him out of this
miasmic jungle in which his feet were entangled and set him again upon
the highway. His head was still confused with the puzzle of Kyd's
behaviour.--Edom's errand, the exact part played by Sir John Norreys,
above all the presence of a subtle treason. He remembered the deep eyes
and the wise brow of the fiddler of Otmoor, and had he not that very
day seen a proof of his power?

The heath billowed and sank into ridges and troughs, waterless and
furze-clad, and in one of the latter they came suddenly upon a house.
It was a small place, built with its back to a steep ridge all
overgrown with blackberries and heather--two stories high, and flanked
by low thatched outbuildings, and a pretence at a walled garden. On the
turf before the door, beside an ancient well, a sign on a pole
proclaimed it the inn of The Merry Woman, but suns and frosts had long
since obliterated all trace of the rejoicing lady, though below it and
more freshly painted was something which might have resembled a human
eye.

The three men lounged into the kitchen, which was an appanage to the
main building, and called for ale. It was brought by a little old woman
in a mutch, who to Alastair's surprise curtseyed to the grimy figure of
the charcoal-burner.

"He's alone, sir," she said, "and your own room's waiting if you're
ready for it."

"Will you go up to him?" the charcoal-burner asked, and Alastair
followed the old woman. She led the way up a narrow staircase with a
neat sheep-skin rug on each tread, to a tiny corridor from which two
rooms opened. The one on the left they entered and found an empty
bedroom, cleanly and plainly furnished. A door in the wall at the other
end, concealed by a hanging cupboard, gave access to a pitch-dark
passage. The woman took Alastair's hand and led him a yard or two till
she found a door-handle. It opened and showed a large chamber with
daylight coming through windows apparently half cloaked with creepers.
Alastair realised that the room had been hollowed out of the steep
behind the house, and that the windows opened in the briars and heath
of the face.

A fire was burning and a man sat beside it reading in a book. He was
the fiddler of Otmoor, and in the same garb, save that he had discarded
his coat and wore instead a long _robe de chambre_. A keen eye scanned
the visitor, and then followed a smile and an outstretched hand.

"Welcome, Alastair Maclean," he said. "I heard of you in these parts
and hoped for a meeting."

"From whom?"

"One whom you call the Spainneach. He left me this morning to go into
Derbyshire."

The name stirred a question.

"Had he news?" Alastair asked. "When I last saw you you prophesied
failure. Are you still of that mind?"

"I do not prophesy, but this I say--that since I saw you your chances
and your perils have grown alike. Your Cause is on the razor-edge and
you yourself may have the deciding."



_IX_      _Old England_


"Yesterday morning your Prince was encamped outside Carlisle. By now
the place may have fallen."

"Who told you?" Alastair asked.

"I have my own messengers who journey in Old England," said Midwinter.
"Consider, Captain Maclean. As a bird flies, the place is not a hundred
and fifty miles distant, and no mile is without its people. A word
cried to a traveller is taken up by another and another till the man
who rubs down a horse at night in a Chester inn-yard will have news of
what befell at dawn on the Scotch Border. My way is quicker than
post-horses. . . . But the name of inn reminds me. You have the look
of a fasting man."

Food was brought, and the November brume having fallen thick in the
hollow, the windows were curtained, a lamp lit, and fresh fuel laid on
the fire. Alastair kicked the boots from his weary legs, and as soon as
his hunger was stayed fell to questioning his host; for he felt that
till he could point a finger to the spy who had dogged him he had
failed in his duty to the Cause. He poured out his tale without reserve.

Midwinter bent his brows and stared into the fire.

"You are satisfied that this servant Edom is honest?" he asked.

"I have observed him for half a day and the man is as much in the dark
as myself. If he is a rogue he is a master in dissimulation. But I do
not think so."

"_Imprimis_, you are insulted in the Flambury inn by those who would
fasten a quarrel on you. _Item_, you are arrested and carried before
this man Thicknesse, and one dressed like a mummer presses the
accusation. _Item_, in a warrant you and your purposes are described
with ominous accuracy. You are likewise this very day tricked by your
gypsy guide, but that concerns rather my lady Norreys. These
misfortunes came upon you after you had supped with Kyd, and therefore
you suspected his servant, for these two alone in this country-side
knew who you were. A fairly argued case, I concede, and to buttress it
Kyd appears to have been near Flambury last night, when he professed to
be on the road for Wiltshire. But you have ceased to suspect the
servant. What of the master?"

Alastair started. "No, no. That is madness. The man is in the very
heart of the Prince's counsels. He is honest, I swear--he is too deep
committed."

Midwinter nodded. "If he were false, it would indeed go ill with you;
for on him, I take it, depends the rising of Wales and the Marches. He
holds your Prince in the hollow of his hand. And if all tales be true
the omens there are happy."

Alastair told of the message from Brother Gilly, and, suddenly
remembering Edom's papers, drew them from his pocket, and read them
again by the firelight. Here at last was news from Badminton and from
Monmouth and Hereford: and at the foot, in the cypher which was that
most commonly used among the Jacobites, was a further note dealing with
Sir Watkin Wynn. The writer had concerted with him a plan, by which the
Welsh levies should march straight through Gloucester and Oxfordshire
to cut in between Cumberland and the capital. To Alastair, the thing
was proved authentic beyond doubt, for it bore the pass-word which had
been agreed between himself and Sir Watkin a week before at Wynnstay.

He fell into a muse from which he was roused by Midwinter's voice.

"Kyd receives messages and forwards them northward, while he himself
remains in the South. By what channel?"

"It would appear by Sir John Norreys, who is now, or soon will be, at
Brightwell under the Peak."

As he spoke the words his suspicions took a new course. Johnson had
thought the man a time-server, though he had yesterday recanted that
view. Sir Christopher Lacy at Cornbury had been positive that he was a
rogue. The only evidence to the contrary was that his wife believed in
him, and that he had declared his colours by forsaking his bride for
the Prince's camp. But he had not gone to the army, and it would seem
that he had no immediate intention of going there, for according to
Edom he would be at Brightwell during the month; and as for his wife's
testimony, she was only a romantic child. Yet this man was the
repository of Kyd's secret information, the use of which meant for the
Prince a kingdom or a beggar's exile. If Kyd were mistaken in him, then
the Cause was sold in very truth. But how came Kyd to be linked with
him? How came a young Oxfordshire baronet, of no great family, and no
record of service, to be _Achilles_ of the innermost circle?

He told his companion of his doubts, unravelling each coil carefully,
while the other marked his points with jerks of his pipe-bowl. When he
had finished Midwinter kept silent for a little. Then "You swear by
Kyd's fidelity?" he asked.

"God in Heaven, but I must," cried Alastair. "If he is false, I may
return overseas to-morrow."

"It is well to test all links in a chain," was the dry answer. "But for
the sake of argument we will assume him honest. Sir John Norreys is the
next link to be tried. If he is rotten, then the Prince had better bide
north of Ribble, for the Western auxiliaries will never move. But even
if the whole hive be false, there is still hope if you act at once.
This is my counsel to you, Captain Maclean. Write straightway to the
Army--choose the man about the Prince who loves you most--and tell him
of the great things to be hoped for from the West. Name no names, but
promise before a certain date to arrive with full proof, and bid them
hasten south without delay. An invasion needs heartening, and if the
worst should be true no word from Kyd is likely to reach the Prince.
Hearten him, therefore, so that he marches to meet you. That is the
first thing. The second is that you go yourself into Derbyshire to see
this Sir John Norreys. If he be true man you will find a friend; if not
you may be in time to undo his treason."

The advice was what had dimly been shaping itself in Alastair's own
mind. His ardour to be back with the Army, which for days had been a
fever in his bones, had now changed to an equal ardour to solve the
riddle which oppressed him. Midwinter was right; the Cause was on a
razor edge and with him might lie the deciding. . . . There was
black treachery somewhere, and far more vital for the Prince than any
victory in Scotland was the keeping the road open for West England to
join him. Shadows of many reasons flitted across his mind and gave
strength to his resolve. He would see this man Norreys who had won so
adorable a lady. He would see the lady again, and at the thought
something rose in his heart which surprised him, for it was almost joy.

"Have you paper and ink?" he asked, and from a cupboard Midwinter
produced them and set them before him.

He wrote to Lochiel, who was his kinsman, for though he knew Lord
George Murray there was a certain jealousy between them. Very roughly
he gave the figures which he had gleaned from Brother Gilly's letter
and that taken from Edom. He begged him to move the Prince to march
without hesitation for the capital, and promised to reach his camp with
full information before the month ended. "And the camp will, I trust,
be by that time no further from St James's than----" He asked Midwinter
for a suitable place, and was told "Derby." He subscribed himself with
the affection of a kinsman and old playmate of Morvern and Lochaber.

"I will see that it reaches its destination," said Midwinter. "And now
for the second task. The man Edom is not suspect and can travel by the
high road. I will send him with one who will direct him to my lady
Norreys' party, which this day, as you tell me, sets out for
Derbyshire. For yourself I counsel a discreeter part. Mark you, sir,
you are sought by sundry gentlemen in Flambury as a Jacobite, and by
Squire Thicknesse and his Hunt as a horsethief. In this land suspicion
is slow to waken, but in the end it runs fast and dies hard. Rumour of
your figure, face, clothes, manner and bloodthirsty spirit will have
already flown fifty miles. If you would be safe you must sink into Old
England."

"I will sink into Acheron if it will better my purpose."

Midwinter regarded him critically. "Your modish clothes are in Kit's
locker, and will duly be sent after you. Now you are the born
charcoal-burner, save that your eyes are too clear and your finger
nails unscorched. The disguise has served your purpose to-day, but it
is too kenspeckle except in great woodlands. Mother Jonnet will find
you a better. For the rest I will guide you, for I have the key."

"Where is this magic country?"

"All around you--behind the brake, across the hedgerow, under the
branches. Some can stretch a hand and touch it--to others it is a
million miles away."

"As a child I knew it," said Alastair, laughing. "I called it
Fairyland."

Midwinter nodded. "Children are free of it, but their elders must earn
admission. It is a safe land--at any rate it is secure from common
perils."

"But it has its own dangers?"

"It makes a man look into his heart, and he may find that in it which
destroys him. Also it is ambition's mortal foe. But if you walk in it
you will come to Brightwell without obstruction, for the King's writ
does not run in the greenwood."

"Whose is the law, then?" Alastair asked.

For answer Midwinter went to the window and flung it open. "My fiddle
cannot speak except with free air about it," he said. "If any drunken
rustic is on the heath he will think the pixies are abroad."

He picked up the violin which had been lying on the table behind him,
and drew forth a slow broken music, which presently changed into a
rhythmical air. At first it was like the twanging of fine wires in a
wind, mingled with an echo of organ music heard over a valley full of
tree-tops. It was tame and homely, yet with a childish inconsequence in
it. Then it grew wilder, and though the organ notes remained it was an
organ that had never sounded within church walls. The tune went with a
steady rhythm, the rhythm of growing things in spring, of seasonal
changes; but always ran the undercurrent of a leaping bacchanal
madness, of long wild dances in bare places. The fiddle ceased on a
soft note, and the fiddler fell to singing in a voice so low that the
words and air only just rose above the pitch of silence. "Diana and her
darling crew," he sang.

  "Diana and her darling crew
    Will pluck your fingers fine,
  And lead you forth right pleasantly
    To drink the honey wine,--
  To drink the honey wine, my dear,
    And sup celestial air,
  And dance as the young angels dance,
    Ah, God, that I were there!"


"Hers is the law," he said. "Diana, or as some say, Proserpina. Old
folk call her the Queen of Elfhame. But over you and me, as baptized
souls, she has no spell but persuasion. You can hear her weeping at
midnight because her power is gone."

Then his mood changed. He laid down the fiddle and shouted on Mother
Jonnet to bring supper. Edom, too, was sent for, and during the meal
was closely catechised. He bore it well, professing no undue honesty
beyond a good servant's, but stiff on his few modest scruples. When he
heard Midwinter's plans for him, he welcomed them, and begged that in
the choice of a horse his precarious balance and round thighs might be
charitably considered. Alastair returned him the letter and watched him
fold it up with the others and shove it inside his waistcoat. A
prolonged study of that mild, concerned, faintly humorous face
convinced him that Edom Lowrie was neither fox nor goose. He retired to
bed to dream of Mr Kyd's jolly countenance, which had mysteriously
acquired a very sharp nose.


Edom went off in the early morning in company with the man called Kit
and mounted on an ambling forest cob whose paces he whole-heartedly
approved. Alastair washed himself like a Brahmin in a tub of hot water
in the back-kitchen, and dressed himself in the garments provided by
Mother Jonnet--frieze and leather and coarse woollen stockings and
square-toed country shoes. The haze of yesterday had gone, and the sky
was a frosty blue, with a sharp wind out of the north-east. He
breakfasted with Midwinter off cold beef and beer and a dish of grilled
ham, and then stood before the door breathing deep of the fresh chilly
morning. The change of garb or the prospect before him had rid him of
all the languor of the past week. He felt extraordinarily lithe and
supple of limb, as in the old days when he had driven deer on the hills
before the autumn dawn. Had he but had the free swing of a kilt at his
thighs and the screes of Ben Aripol before him he would have recaptured
his boyhood.

Midwinter looked at him with approval.

"You are clad as a man should be for Old England, and you have the legs
for the road we travel. We do not ride, for we go where no horse can
go. Put not your trust in horses, saith the Scriptures, which I take to
mean that a man in the last resort should depend on his own shanks.
Boot and spur must stick to the paths, and the paths are but a tiny bit
of England. How sits the wind? North by east? There is snow coming, but
not in the next thirty hours, and if it comes, it will not stay us. _En
avant, mon capitaine._"

At a pace which was marvellous for one of his figure, Midwinter led the
way over the heath, and then plunged into a tangled wood of oaks. He
walked like a mountaineer, swinging from the hips, the body a little
bent forward, and his long even strides devoured the ground. Even so,
Alastair reminded himself, had the hunters at Glentarnit breasted the
hill, while his boyish steps had toiled in their rear. Sometimes on
level ground he would break into a run, as if his body's vigour needed
an occasional burst of speed to chasten it. The young man exulted in
the crisp air and the swift motion. The stiffness of body and mind
which had beset him ever since he left Scotland vanished under this
cordial, he lost his doubts and misgivings, and felt again that lifting
ardour of the heart which is the glory of youth. His feet were
tireless, his limbs were as elastic as a sword-blade, his breath as
deep as a greyhound's. Two days before, jogging in miry lanes, he had
seemed caught and stifled in a net; now he was on a hill-top, and free
as the wind that plucked at his hair.

It is probable that Midwinter had for one of his purposes the creation
of this happy mood, for he kept up the pace till after midday, when
they came to a high deer-fence, beyond which stretched a ferny park.
Here they slackened speed, their faces glowing like coals, and,
skirting the park, reached a thatched hut which smoked in a dell. A
woman stood at the door, who at the sight of the two would have retired
inside, had not Midwinter whistled sharply on his fingers. She blinked
and shaded her eyes with her hand against the frosty sunshine; then to
Alastair's amazement she curtseyed deep.

Midwinter did not halt, but asked if Jeremy were at the stone pit.

"He be, Master," was her answer. "Will ye stop to break bread?"

"Nay, Jeremy shall feed us," he cried, and led the way up the dingle
where a brook flowed in reedy pools. Presently there was a sound of
axe-blows, and, rounding a corner, they came on a man cutting poles
from a thicket of saplings. Again Midwinter whistled, and the
woodcutter dropped his tool and turned with a grinning face, pulling at
his forelock.

Midwinter sat down on a tree-trunk.

"Jeremy, lad, you behold two hungry men waiting to sample the art of
the best cook in the Borton Hundreds. Have you the wherewithal, or must
we go back to your wife?"

"I has, I surely has," was the answer. "Be pleased to be seated, kind
sirs, and Jerry Tusser will have your meat ready before ye have rightly
eased your legs. This way, Master, this way."

He led them to a pit where a fire burned between three stones and a
kettle bubbled. Plates of coarse earthenware were brought from some
hiding-place, and in five minutes Alastair was supping with an iron
spoon as savoury a stew as he had ever eaten. The fruits of Jeremy's
snares were in it, and the fruits of Jeremy's old fowling piece, and it
was flavoured with herbs whose merits the world has forgotten. The hot
meal quickened his vigour, and he was on his feet before Midwinter had
done, like a dog eager to be on the road again.

He heard the man speak low to Midwinter. "Dook o' Kingston's horse," he
heard and a hand was jerked northward.

In the afternoon the way lay across more open country, which Midwinter
seemed to know like the palm of his hand, for he made points for some
ridge or tree-top, and yet was never held up by brook or fence or
dwelling. The air had grown sharper, clouds were banking in the east,
and a wind was moaning in the tops of the high trees. Alastair seemed
to have been restored to the clean world of his youth, after long
absence among courts and cities. He noted the woodcock flitting between
the bracken and the leafless boughs, and the mallards silently
flighting from mere to stubble. A wedge of geese moving south made him
turn his face skyward, and a little later he heard a wild whistle, and
saw far up in the heavens a line of swans. His bodily strength was
great as ever, but he had ceased to exult in it, and was ready to
observe and meditate.

A highway cut the forest, and the two behind a bush of box watched a
company of riders jingle down it. They were rustic fellows, poor
horsemen most of them, mounted on every variety of beast, and at the
head rode a smarter youth, with brand-new holsters out of which peeped
the butts of ancient pistols.

"Recruits for the Duke of Kingston," Midwinter whispered. "They
rendezvous at Nottingham, I hear. Think you they will make a good match
of it with your Highland claymores?"

Night fell when they were still in the open, and Midwinter, after
halting for a second to take his bearings, led the way to a wood which
seemed to flow in and out of a shallow vale.

"The night will be cold, Captain Maclean, and a wise man takes comfort
when he can find it. I could find you twenty lodgings, but we will take
the warmest."

The woodland path ended in a road which seemed to be the avenue to a
great house. It was soon very dark, and Alastair heard the rustling of
animals which revived some ancestral knowledge, for he could
distinguish the different noises which were rabbit, badger, stoat and
deer. Down the avenue Midwinter led unconcernedly, and then turned off
to a group of buildings which might have been stables. He bade Alastair
wait while he went forward, and after some delay returned with a man
who carried a lantern. The fellow, seen in the dim light, was from his
dress an upper servant, and his bearing was in the extreme respectful.
He bowed to Alastair, and led them through a gate into a garden, where
their feet rang on flagged stones and rustled against box borders. A
mass loomed up on the left which proved to be a great mansion.

The servant admitted them by a side door, and led them to a room, where
he lit a dozen candles from his lantern, and revealed a panelled
octagonal chamber hung with full-length portraits of forbidding
gentlemen. There he left them, and when he returned it was with an
elderly butler in undress, who bowed with the same deferent decorum.

"His lordship has gone since yesterday into Yorkshire, sir," he
informed Midwinter. "I will have the usual rooms made ready for you at
once, and you can sup in my lord's cabinet which is adjacent."

The two travellers soon found themselves warming their feet before a
bright fire, while some thousands of volumes in calf and vellum looked
down on them from the walls. They supped royally, but Alastair was too
drowsy for talk, and his body had scarcely touched the sheets of his
bed before he was asleep. He was woke before dawn, shaved and dressed
by the butler, and given breakfast--with China tea in place of beer--in
the same cabinet. It was still dark when the first servant of the night
before conducted them out of the house by the same side door, led them
across the shadowy park, and through a gate in the wall ushered them
out to a dusky common, where trees in the creeping light stood up like
gibbets. Midwinter led off at a trot, and at a trot they crossed the
common and put more than one little valley behind them, so that when
day dawned fully there was no sign in all the landscape of their
night's lodging.

"Whose was the house?" Alastair asked, and was told--"We name no names
in Old England."

The second day was to Alastair like the first for joy in the movement
of travel, but the weather had grown bitterly cold and unfallen snow
was heavy in the leaden sky. The distances were still clear, and though
all the morning the road seemed to lie in hollows and dales, yet he had
glimpses in the north of high blue ridges. Other signs told him that he
was nearing the hills. The streams ceased to be links of sluggish
pools, and chattered in rapids. He saw a water ouzel with its white
cravat flash from the cover of a stone bridge. A flock of plovers which
circled over one heath proved to be not green but golden. He told this
to Midwinter, who nodded and pointed to a speck in the sky.

"There is better proof," he said.

The bird dropped closer to earth, and showed itself as neither
sparrow-hawk nor kestrel, but merlin.

"We are nearing the hills," he said, "but Brightwell is far up the long
valleys. We will not reach it before to-morrow night."

Just at the darkening the first snow fell. They were descending a steep
boulder-strewn ridge to a stream of some size, which swirled in icy
grey pools. Above them hung a tree-crowned hill now dim with night, and
ere they reached the cover on its crest the flakes were thick about
them. Midwinter grunted, and broke into a trot along the ridge. "Ill
weather," he croaked, "and a harder bed than yestereen. We'll have to
make shift with tinkler's fare. They told me at Harrowden that Job
Lee's pack were in the Quarters Wood, and Job has some notion of
hospitality. Job it must be, for the snow is fairly come."

In a broad coombe on the sheltered side of the ridge they came
presently on a roaring fire of roots with three tents beside it, so
placed that they were free alike from wind and smoke. The snow was
falling hard, and beginning to drift, when Midwinter strode into the
glow, and the man he called Job Lee--a long man with untied hair
brushing his shoulders and a waistcoat of dyed deerskin--took his right
hand between both of his and carried it to his lips. The newcomers
shook themselves like dogs and were allotted one of the tents, thereby
ousting two sleeping children who staggered to the hospitality of their
father's bed. They supped off roast hare and strong ale, and slept till
the wintry sun had climbed the Derbyshire hills and lit a world all
virgin-white.

"The Almighty has sent a skid for our legs," Midwinter muttered as he
watched the wet logs hiss in Job Lee's morning fire. "We can travel
slow, for the roads will be heavy for my lady." So they did not start
till the forenoon was well advanced, and as soon as possible exchanged
the clogged and slippery hillside for a valley road. A wayside inn gave
them a scrag of boiled mutton for dinner, and thereafter they took a
short cut over a ridge of hill to reach the dale at whose head lay the
house of Brightwell. On the summit they halted to reconnoitre, for the
highway was visible there for many miles.

Just below them at the road side, where a tributary way branched off,
stood an inn of some pretensions, whose sign was deciphered by
Alastair's hawk eyes as a couchant stag. Fresh snow was massing on the
horizon, but for the moment the air was diamond clear. There had been
little traffic on the road since morning and that only foot passengers,
with one horse's tracks coming down the valley. These tracks did not
pass the door, therefore the horseman must be within. There were no
signs of a coach's wheels, so Lady Norreys had not yet arrived. He
lifted his eyes and looked down the stream. There, a mile or so
distant, moved a dark cluster, a coach apparently and attendant riders.

The snow was on them again and Alastair bowed his head to the blast.
"They will lie at that inn," said Midwinter. "Brightwell is half a
dozen miles on, and the road is dangerous. You will, of course, join
them. I will accompany you to the door and leave you, for I have
business in Sherwood that cannot wait."

Again Alastair peered through the snow. He saw a man come out of the
inn door as in a great hurry, mount a waiting horse, and clatter off up
the vale--a tall man in a horseman's cloak with a high collar. Then a
little later came the vanguard of the approaching party to bespeak
quarters. The two men watched till the coach came abreast the door, and
a slender hooded figure stepped from it. Then they began to make their
way down the hillside.



_X_      _Snowbound at the Sleeping Deer_


The whole staff of the Sleeping Deer were around the door when my lady
Norreys, making dainty grimaces at the weather, tripped over the yards
of snow-powdered cobbles between the step of her coach and the
comfortable warmth of the inn. The landlord, ill-favoured and old, was
there with his bow, and the landlady, handsome and not yet forty, with
her curtsey, and in the gallery which ran round the stone-flagged hall
the chambermaid tribe of Dollys and Peggys clustered to regard the
newcomer, for pretty young ladies of quality did not lie every night at
a moorland hostelry. But the lady would not tarry to warm her toes by
the great fire or to taste the landlady's cordials. A fire had been
bespoke in her bedchamber and there she retired to drink tea, which her
woman, Mrs Peckover, made with the secret airs of a plotter in the
sanctum beside the bar. The two servants from Weston attended the coach
in the inn-yard. Mr Edom Lowrie comforted himself with a pot of warm
ale, while Mr Samuel Johnson, finding a good fire in the parlour,
removed his shoes, and toasted at the ribs his great worsted stocking
soles.

Twenty minutes later, when the bustle had subsided, two unassuming
travellers appeared below the signboard on which might be seen the
fresh-painted gaudy lineaments of a couching fallow deer. The snow was
now falling thick, and the wind had risen so that the air was one wild
scurry and smother. Midwinter marched straight for the sanctum, and
finding it empty but for Mrs Peckover, continued down a narrow passage,
smelling of onions, to a little room which he entered unbidden. There
sat the landlord with horn spectacles on his nose, making a splice of a
trout rod. At the sight of Midwinter he stood to attention, letting all
his paraphernalia of twine and wax and tweezers slip to the floor.

"I have brought a friend," said Midwinter. "See that you entreat him
well and do his biddings as if they were my own. For myself I want a
horse, friend Tappet, for snow or no I must sleep in the next shire."

So as Alastair was changing into his own clothes, which the landlord
fetched for him from Edom, he saw from his window in the last faint
daylight a square cloakless figure swing from the yard at a canter and
turn south with the gale behind it.

The young man had now secured all his belongings, some having come with
Edom by grace of the charcoal-burner and the rest from Squire
Thicknesse's manor in the lady's charge. As he dressed, his mind was
busy on his old problem, and he had sadly to confess that though he had
covered much country in recent days he had got little new light. More
than once he had tried to set Midwinter's mind to work on it, but,
beyond his advice to come to Brightwell, he had shown no interest. Why
should he, Alastair reflected, since his creed forswore all common
loyalties? But as he had plodded up and down the foothills that day his
thoughts had been running chiefly on the lady's husband whom she
believed to be now with the Prince, but who most certainly was, or was
about to be, in the vicinity of Brightwell. For what purpose? To
receive a letter from Edom--a continuing correspondence, sent by Kyd,
and charged with the most desperate import to the Prince--a
correspondence which should be without delay in the Prince's hands.
What did Sir John Norreys in the business? Why did Kyd send the letters
by Brightwell, which was not the nearest road to Lancashire?

As he came downstairs he noticed a map hanging on a panel between
prints of the new gardens at Chatsworth and the old Marquis of Granby.
It was a Dutch thing, drawn by Timothy Hooge a hundred years before,
and it showed all the southern part of the Peak country, with fragments
of Yorkshire, Notts and Staffordshire adjoining. It was hard to read,
for it had been pasted on a wooden board and then highly varnished, but
the main roads were strongly marked in a purplish red. He saw the road
from the north-west descend the valleys to Derby and so to London, the
road from Manchester and Lancashire which the Prince's army would
travel. With some trouble he found Brightwell and to his surprise saw
the road which passed it marked with equal vigour, as if it vied with
the other in importance. A moment's reflection told him the reason. It
was the main way from the West. By this road must come the levies from
Wales if they were to join the Prince before he reached Derby and the
flat country. By this road, too, must all messages come from West
England so soon as the army left Manchester. More, the Hanoverian
forces were gathering in Nottinghamshire. If they sought to cut in in
the Prince's rear they would march this way. . . . Brightwell was
suddenly revealed as a point of strategy, a ganglion; if treachery were
abroad, here it would roost.

He walked into the kitchen, for he had an odd fancy about the horseman
whom he had seen ride away a little before Lady Norreys' arrival--an
incredible suspicion which he wished to lay. A kitchen wench was busy
at the fire, and on a settle a stableman sat drinking beer while a
second stamped the snow from his boots at the back door. The appearance
of a dapper gentleman in buckled shoes and a well-powdered wig so
startled the beer-drinker that he spilled half his mug on the floor.
Alastair ordered fresh supplies for all three and drank his on the seat
beside the others. Had they been in the yard all afternoon? They had,
and had prophesied snow since before breakfast, though Master wouldn't
have it so and had sent the waggons to Marlock, where they would be
storm-stayed. . . . Yes. A rider had come down the valley and had
put up his horse for the better part of an hour. He had been indoors
most of the time--couldn't say why. A tall fellow, Bill said. No, not
very powerful--lean shoulders--pale face--big nose. Young, too--Tom
reckoned not more than twenty-five. . . . Alastair left them with an
easier mind, for the worst of his suspicions had been disproved. The
back he had seen from the ridge-top posting up the dale had had a
disquieting resemblance to Kyd's.

In the parlour he found Mr Johnson stretching his great bulk before a
leaping fire and expanding in the warmth of it. The windows had not
been shuttered, so the wild night was in visible contrast to the snug
hearth. A small girl of five or six years, the landlady's child, had
strayed into the room, and, fascinated by a strange gentleman, had
remained to talk. She now sat on one of Johnson's bony knees, while he
told her a fairy tale in a portentous hollow voice. He told of a
dragon, a virtuous dragon in reality a prince, who lived in a
Derbyshire cave, and of how the little girl stumbled on the cave, found
the dragon, realised his true character, and lived with him for a year
and a day, which was the prescribed magical time if he were to be a
prince again. He was just describing the tiny bed she had in the rock
opposite the dragon's lair, which lair was like a dry mill-pond, and
the child was punctuating the narrative with squeals of excitement,
when Alastair entered. Thereupon the narrator became self-conscious,
the story hastened to a lame conclusion, and the small girl climbed
from his knee and with many backward glances sidled out of the room.

"You find me childishly employed, sir," said Johnson, "but I dearly
love a little miss and I think my company has charms for them. I
rejoiced to hear from the Scotch serving-man, who by the way is a
worthy fellow, that you were expected to meet us at this place. We are
fortunate in winning here thus early, for presently the snow will so
conglobulate that the road will be impossible for coach and
horses. . . . You have not yet dined, sir? No more have I or the
Scotchman, and my lady has retired to her chamber. Our hostess promised
that the meal should not be long delayed, and I have bidden the
Scotchman to share it, for though his condition is humble he has
becoming manners and a just mind. I do not defend the sitting down of
servants and masters as a quotidian occurrence, but customs abate their
rigidity on a journey."

To Johnson's delight a maid entered at that moment for the purpose of
laying the table. She lit a half-dozen of candles, and closed and
barred the heavy shutters so that the only evidence of the storm that
remained was the shaking of the window frames, the rumbling in the
chimney and the constant fine hissing at the back of the fire where the
snow descended. This distant reminder gave an edge to the delicate
comfort of the place, and as fragrant odours were wafted from the
kitchen through the open door Johnson's spirits rose and his dull eyes
brightened like children's at the sight of sweets.

"Of all the good gifts of a beneficent Providence to men," he cried, "I
think that none excels a well-appointed inn, and I call it a gift, for
our fallible mortal nature is not capable unaided of devising so rare a
thing. Behold me, Captain Maclean. My wealth is less than a crown and,
unless I beg my way, I see not how I can return to Chastlecote. I am
dependent upon my dear young lady for the expense of this journey,
which she chose to command. Therefore I do not feel justified in
ordering what my fancy dictates. Yet so strongly am I delighted by this
place that I propose to spend this my last crown on a bowl of bishop to
supplement the coming meal, which from its odour should be worthy of
it. Like Ariadne in her desertion I find help in Bacchus."

"Nay, sir, I am the host," said Alastair. "Last night I slept by a
tinkler's fire and dined off a tinkler's stew. To-night we shall have
the best the house affords. The food, I take it, is at the discretion
of the landlady, but the wine shall be at yours."

"Oh brave we!" cried Johnson. "Let us have in the landlord forthwith,
for, Captain Maclean, sir, I would be indeed a churl if I scrupled to
assent to your good fellowship."

He rang the bell violently and, when the landlord was fetched, entered
upon a learned disquisition on wines, with the well-thumbed cellar-book
of the inn as his text. "Claret we shall not drink, though our host
recommends his binns and it is the favourite drink of gentlemen in your
country, sir. In winter weather it is too thin, and, even when well
warmed, too cold. Nay, at its best it is but a liquor for boys."

"And for men?" Alastair asked.

"For men port, and for heroes brandy."

"Then brandy be it."

"Nay, sir," he said solemnly. "Brandy on the unheroic, such as I
confess myself to be, produces too soon and certainly the effect of
drunkenness. Drunkenness I love not, for I am a man accustomed to
self-examination, and I am conscious when I am drunk, and that
consciousness is painful. Others know not when they are drunk or sober.
I know a man, a very worthy bookseller, who is so habitually and
equally drunk that even his intimates cannot perceive that he is more
sober at one time than another. Besides, my dear lady may summon us to
a hand at cartes or to drink tea with her."

Eventually he ordered a bottle of port, one of old madeira and one of
brown sherry, that he might try all three before deciding by which he
should abide. Presently Edom was summoned, and on his heels came
dinner. It proved to be an excellent meal to which Mr Johnson applied
himself with a serious resolution. There was thick hare soup, with all
the woods and pastures in its fragrance, and a big dressed pike, caught
that morning in the inn stew-pond. This the two Scots did not touch,
but Mr Johnson ate of it largely, using his fingers, because, as he
said, he was short-sighted and afraid of bones. Then came roast hill
mutton, which he highly commended. "Yesterday," he declared, "we also
dined upon mutton--mutton ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept and
ill-dressed. This is as nutty as venison." But he reserved his highest
commendations for a veal pie, made with plums, which he averred was his
favourite delicacy. With the cheese and wheaten cakes which followed he
sampled the three bottles and decided for the port. Alastair and Edom
were by comparison spare eaters, and had watched with admiration the
gallant trencher-work of their companion. For liquor they drank a light
rum punch of Alastair's compounding, while Mr Johnson consumed, in
addition to divers glasses of sherry and Madeira, two bottles of rich
dark port, dropping a lump of sugar into each glass and stirring it
with the butt of a fork.

And all the while he talked, wisely, shrewdly, truculently, and with a
gusto comparable to that which he displayed in the business of eating.

"You slept hard last night?" he asked of Alastair. "How came you here?"

"On foot. For ten days I have been in an older world with a man who is
a kind of king there." He spoke for a little of Midwinter, but Johnson
was unimpressed.

"I think I have heard these boasts before, sir. When a man decries
civility and exalts barbarism, it is because he is ill fitted to excel
in good society. So when one praises rusticity it is because he is
denied the joys of town. A man may be tired of the country, but when he
is tired of London he is tired of life."

"Yet the taste can be defended," said Alastair. "A lover of natural
beauty will be impatient of too long a sojourn in town, and if he would
indulge his fancy he must leave the highway."

Mr Johnson raised his head and puffed out his cheeks.

"No, sir, I do not assent to this fashionable cant of natural beauty,
nor will I rave like a green girl over scenery. One part of the earth
is very much as another to me, provided it support life. The most
beautiful garden is that which produces most fruits, and the fairest
stream that which is fullest of fish. As for mountains----"

The food and the wine had flushed Mr Johnson's face, and his uncouth
gestures had become more violent. Now with a wheel of his right hand he
swept two glasses to the floor and narrowly missed Edom's head.

"Mountains!" he cried, "I deny any grandeur in the spectacle. There is
more emotion for me in a furlong of Cheapside than in the contemplation
of mere elevated bodies."

Edom, with an eye on the port, was whispering to Alastair that they
would soon be contemplating another elevated body, when there came a
knocking and the landlady entered.

"Her ladyship's services to you, sirs," she announced, "and she expects
Mr Johnson to wait upon her after the next half-hour, and she begs him
to bring also the gentleman recently arrived with whom she believes she
has the honour of an acquaintance." The landlady, having got the
message by heart, delivered it with the speed and monotony of a
bell-man. Mr Johnson rose to his feet and bowed.

"Our service to my lady," he said, "and we will obey her commands.
_Our_ service, mark you," and he inclined towards Alastair. The summons
seemed to have turned his thoughts from wine, for he refused the bottle
when it was passed to him.

"The dear child is refreshed, it would seem," he said. "She found this
morning's journey irksome, for she has little patience. Reading she
cannot abide, and besides the light was poor."

"Is madam possessed of many accomplishments?" Alastair asked, because
it was clear that the other expected him to speak on the subject.

"Why no, sir. It is not right for a gentlewoman to be trained like a
performing ape. Adventitious accomplishments may be possessed by any
rank, but one can always distinguish the born gentlewoman."

Then he repented.

"But I would not have you think that she is of dull wits. Nay, she is
the most qualitied lady I have ever seen. She has an admirable quick
mind which she puts honestly to yours. I have had rare discussions with
her. Reflect, sir; she has lived always in the broad sunshine of life,
and has had no spur to form her wits save her own fancy. A good mind in
such a one is a greater credit than with those who are witty for a
livelihood. 'Twill serve her well in matrimony, for no woman is the
worse for sense and knowledge. For the present, being not three weeks
married, her mind is in a happy confusion."

He smiled tenderly as he spoke, like a father speaking of a child.

"She is happy, I think," he said, and repeated the phrase three times.
"You have seen her," he turned to Alastair. "You can confirm my belief
that she is happy?"

"She is most deeply in love," was the reply.

"And transmutes it into happiness," said Johnson, and repeated with a
rolling voice some lines of poetry, beating time with his hand,

  "Love various minds does variously inspire;
  It stirs in gentle bosoms gentle fire
  Like that of incense on the altar laid."

"There," said he, "Dryden drew from a profundity which Pope could not
reach. But it is time for us to be waiting on my lady." He hoisted
himself from his chair, brushed the crumbs from his waistcoat,
straightened his rusty cravat, and opened the door with a bow to the
others. He was in the best of spirits.

The landlady was waiting to show the two upstairs, Edom having meantime
retired to smoke a pipe in the bar. As they ascended, the gale was
still pounding on the roof and an unshuttered lattice showed a thick
drift of snow on the outer sill, but over the tumult came the echo of a
clear voice singing. To Alastair's surprise it was a song he knew, the
very song that Midwinter had played two nights before. "Diana and her
darling crew" sang the voice, and as the door opened it was Diana
herself that seemed to the young man to be walking to meet him. _Vera
incessu patuit Dea._

Mrs Peckover had dressed her hair, which the coach journey had
disarranged, but to Alastair's eye her air was childlike, as contrasted
with the hooped and furbelowed ladies of the French court. Her skirts
were straight and unmodish, so that her limbs moved freely, and the
slim young neck was encircled with her only jewel--a string of pearls.
The homely inn chamber, which till a few hours before had been but the
Brown Room, was now to him a hall in a palace, a glade in the
greenwood, or wherever else walk princesses and nymphs.

She gave him her hand and then dropped into a chair, looking at him
earnestly from under her long eyelashes.

"I thought that b-by this time you would be in L-Lancashire, Captain
Maclean."

"So also did I," and he told her the story of Gypsy Ben and his
morning's hunt. "There is business I have had news of in these parts, a
riddle I must unravel before I can ride north with a quiet mind. The
enemy musters in Nottinghamshire, and I must carry word of his
dispositions."

Her brown eyes had kindled. "Ben is a rogue then! By Heaven, sir, I
will have him stript and whipt from Thames to Severn. Never fear but my
vengeance shall reach him. Oh, I am heartily glad to know the truth,
for though I have used him much I have had my misgivings. He carried
letters for me to my dear Sir John." She stopped suddenly. "That is why
the replies are delayed. Oh, the faithless scoundrel! I can love a foe
but I do abhor all traitors. . . . Do you say the enemy musters in
Nottingham?" The anger in her voice had been replaced by eagerness at
this new thought.

"So it is reported, and, as I read it, he may march by this very road
if he hopes to take the Prince's flank. You at Brightwell may have the
war in your garden."

Her eyes glistened. "If only Sir John were here! There is the chance of
a famous exploit. You are a soldier, sir. Show me, for I love the
gossip of war."

On the hearthstone with a charred stick he drew roughly the two roads
from the north. "Here or hereabouts will lie the decision," he said.
"Cumberland cannot suffer the Prince to approach nearer London without
a battle. If you hear of us south of Derby undefeated, then you may
know, my lady, that honesty has won."

She cried out, twining her hands.

"Tell me more, sir. I had thought to pass the evening playing Pope Joan
with my Puffin, but you are here to teach me a better pastime. Instruct
me, for I am desperate ignorant."

Alastair repeated once again his creed in which during the past days he
had come the more firmly to believe. There must be a victory in
England, but in the then condition of Wales and the West a very little
victory would suffice to turn the scale. The danger lay in doubting
counsels in the Prince's own circle. Boldness, and still boldness, was
the only wisdom. To be cautious was to be rash; to creep soberly south
with a careful eye to communications was to run a deadly peril; to cut
loose and march incontinent for London was safe and prudent. "Therefore
I must get quickly to the Prince's side," he said, "for he has many
doubting Thomases around him, and few with experience of war."

"He has my Sir John," she said proudly. "Sir John is young, and has not
seen such service as you, but he is of the same bold spirit. I know his
views, for he has told them me, and they are yours."

"There are too many half-hearted, and there is also rank treason about.
Your Gypsy Ben is the type of thousands."

She clenched her hands and held them high. "How I l-loathe it! Oh, if I
thought I could betray the Cause I should hang myself. If I thought
that one I loved could be a traitor I should d-die." There was such
emotion in her voice that the echo of it alarmed her and she changed
her tone.

"Puffin," she cried, "are you honest on our side? I have sometimes
doubted you."

"Madam," Mr Johnson replied in the same bantering voice, "I can promise
that at any rate I will not betray you. Being neither soldier nor
statesman, I am not yet called to play an overt part in the quarrel,
but I am a Prince's man inasmuch as I believe in the divine origin of
the Christian state and therefore in the divine right of monarchs to
govern. I am no grey rat from Hanover."

"Yet," she said, with a chiding finger, "I have heard you say that a
Tory was a creature generated between a non-juring parson and one's
grandmother."

"Nay, my dear lady," he cried, "such heresy was never mine. I only
quoted it as a pernicious opinion of another, and I quoted too my
answer that 'the Devil, as the first foe to constituted authority, was
the first Whig.'"

At this juncture Mrs Peckover appeared with a kettle of boiling water
and the rest of the equipment of tea, which the girl dispensed out of
the coarse inn earthenware and sweetened with the coarse sugar which Mr
Johnson had used for his port. While the latter drank his dish noisily,
she looked curiously at Alastair.

"You are no politician, Captain Maclean, and doubtless have no concern
with the arguments with which our gentlemen soothe their consciences.
You do not seek wealth or power--of that I am certain. What are the
bonds that join you to the Prince?"

"I am a plain soldier," he said, "and but fulfil my orders."

"Nay, but you do not answer me. You do more than obey your orders; you
are an enthusiast, as Sir John is--as I am--as that dull Puffin is not.
I am curious to know the reason of your faith."

Alastair, looking into the fire, found himself constrained to reply.

"I am of the old religion," he said, "and loyalty to my king is one of
its articles."

She nodded. "I am a daughter of another church, which has also that
teaching."

"Also I am of the Highlands, and I love the ancient ways. My clan has
fought for them and lost, and it is in my blood to fight still and risk
the losing."

Her eyes encouraged him, and he found himself telling the tale of Clan
Gillian--the centuries-long feud with Clan Diarmaid, the shrinking of
its lands in Mull and Morvern, the forays with Montrose and Dundee, the
sounding record of its sons in the wars of Europe. He told of the old
tower of Glentarnit, with the loch lapping about it, and his father who
had no other child but him; of the dreams of his youth in the hot
heather; of that little ragged clan which looked to him as leader and
provider; and into his voice there came the pathos and passion of long
memories.

"I fight for that," he said; "for the old things."

It seemed that he had touched her. Her eyes were misty and with a
child's gesture she laid a hand on his sleeve and stroked it. The spell
which had fallen on them was broken by Mr Johnson.

"I conceive," he said, "that the power of the Scottish chief is no less
than Homeric, and his position more desirable than that of any grandee
in England. He may be poor, but he has high duties and exacts a fine
reverence. When I was a child my father put into my hands Martin's book
on the Western Isles, and ever since I have desired to visit them and
behold the patriarchal life with my own eyes."

"Your Highlanders are good soldiers?" she asked.

"They are the spear-point of the Prince's strength," said Alastair.

"It is a strange time," said Johnson, "which sees enlisted on the same
side many superfine gentlemen of France, certain sophisticated
politicians of England, and these simple, brave, ignorant clansmen."

"There is one bond which unites them all," she cried with enthusiasm,
"which places my Sir John and the humblest Scotch peasant on an
equality. They have the honesty to see their duty and the courage to
follow it. What can stand against loyalty? It is the faith that moves
mountains."

"Amen, my dear lady," said Johnson, and Alastair with a sudden impulse
seized her hand and carried it to his lips.

* * * * * *

The next morning dawned as silent as midnight. The wind had died, the
snowfall had ceased, and the world lay choked, six-foot drifts in the
road, twenty foot in the dells, and, with it all, patches of hill-top
as bare as a man's hand. The shepherds were out with the first light
digging sheep from the wreaths, and the cows after milking never left
the byres. No traveller appeared on the road, for a coach was a
manifest impossibility, and a horse little better. Alastair and Johnson
breakfasted at leisure, and presently the elder of the Weston servants
brought word of the condition of the highway. This was borne by Mrs
Peckover to her mistress, who summoned Mr Johnson to her to discuss the
situation. The landlord was unhopeful. Unless he could put six horses
to it the coach would not get to Brightwell, though a squad of men went
ahead to clear the drifts. The extra four horses he could not provide
since his waggons were all at Marlock and the two riding horses were
useless for coach work. The best plan would be to send to Brightwell
for the requisite horses, and this should be done later in the day, if
no further snow fell. The lady pouted, but settled herself comfortably
at cartes with her maid.

She inquired after Alastair's plans, and was told that he would make a
shift to travel, since his errand brooked no delay. Thereafter he found
the landlord and drew him aside. "You were bidden by our friend to take
orders from me," he said. "I have but the one. I stay on here, but you
will let it be known that I have gone--this day after noon. You will
give me a retired room with a key, forbid it to chambermaids, serve me
with your own hand, and show me some way of private entry. It is
important that I be thought to have left the countryside."

The man did as he was told and Alastair spent the morning with Mr
Johnson, who suffered from a grievous melancholy after the exhilaration
of the night before. At first he had turned the pages of the only book
in the inn, an ancient devotional work entitled "A Shove for a
Heavy-sterned Christian." But presently he flung it from him and sat
sidelong in a chair with his shoulders humped, his eye dull and
languid, and his left leg twitching like a man with the palsy. His
voice was sharp-pitched, as if it came from a body in pain.

"I am subject to such fits," he told Alastair. "They come when my mind
is unemployed and when I have pampered my body with over-rich food. Now
I suffer from both causes. Nay, sir, do not commiserate me. Each of us
must live his life on the terms on which it is given him. Others have
some perpetual weakness of mind or some agonising pain. I have these
black moods when I see only the littleness of life and the terrors of
death."

Lady Norreys had written a letter to her husband's great-uncle at
Brightwell, and armed with it Alastair set out a little before midday.
He had dressed himself in the frieze and leather with which Midwinter
had provided him, for it was as good a garb as a kilt for winter snows.
The direction was simple. He had but to follow the valley, for
Brightwell was at its head, before the road began to climb to the
watershed.

To one who had shot hinds on steeper hills in wilder winters the
journey was child's play. He made his road by the barer ridges, and
circumvented the hollows or crossed them where matted furze or hazel
made a foundation. He found that the higher he moved up the vale the
less deep became the fall, and the shallower the wreaths, as if the
force of the wind had been abated by the loftier mountains. Brightwell
lay in a circle of woods on whose darkness the snow had left only a
powder; before it ran the upper streams of a little river; behind it
the dale became a ravine and high round-shouldered hills crowded in on
it.

A thin column of smoke rose from a chimney into the bitter windless
noon, so the place was inhabited. But the gates of the main entrance
were shut--massive gates flanked by stone pillars bearing a cognisance
of three mullets on a chief--and the snow of the avenue was a virgin
sheet of white. Alastair entered the park by a gap in the wall, crossed
the snow-filled river, and came by way of a hornbeam avenue to the back
parts of the house. There he found signs of humanity. The courtyard was
trampled into slush, and tracks led out from it to the woody hills. But
nevertheless an air of death sat on the place, as if this life it bore
witness to was only a sudden start in a long slumber. With his spirits
heavily depressed he made his way to what seemed to be the door, and
entered a lesser courtyard, where he was at once attacked by two noisy
dogs.

As he drove them off, half thankful for their cheerful violence, an old
man, dressed in black like a butler, appeared. He had a thin peevish
face, and eyes that squinted so terribly that it was impossible to
guess the direction of his gaze. He received the letter without a word
and disappeared. After a considerable lapse of time he returned and
bade Alastair follow him through a labyrinth of passages, till they
reached a high old panelled hall, darkened by lozenged heraldic
windows, and most feebly warmed by a little fire of damp faggots. There
he was left alone a second time, while he had leisure to observe the
immense dusty groining and the antlers and horns, black as bog oak, on
the walls. Then suddenly a woman stood before him.

She was tall as a grenadier and beaked like a falcon, and to defend her
against the morning cold she wore what seemed to be a military coat and
a turban. Her voice was surprisingly deep and large.

"You are the messenger from the Sleeping Deer? My lady Norreys lies
there storm-stayed, because of the snow and asks for horses? You
travelled that road yourself. Would six horses bring a coach through?"

Alastair, coarsening his accent as best he could, replied that with
care six horses could get a coach to Brightwell.

"Then return at once and say that the horses will be there an hour
before sunset."

A new voice joined in, which came from an older woman, fat as the other
was lean, who had waddled to her side.

"But, sister, bethink you we have not the animals."

The first speaker turned fiercely. "The animals must and shall be
found. We cannot have our new cousin moping in a public hostel on her
first visit to us. For shame, Caroline."

"Back with you," she turned to Alastair. "Bennet will give you a glass
of ale, but see you do not dally over it."

The buttery ale was not such as to invite dalliance, and like the whole
place smacked either of narrow means or narrow souls. Even the kitchen,
of which he had a glimpse, was comfortless. To warm his blood Alastair
trotted across the park, and as he ran with his head low almost butted
into a horseman who was riding on one of the paths that converged on
the back courtyard. He pulled himself up in time, warned by the rider's
cry, and saw pass him a gentleman in a heavy fawn riding-coat, whose
hat was pulled down over his brows and showed little of his face. Two
sharp eyes flashed on him and then lifted, and a sharp nose, red with
the weather, projected over the high coat collar.

Alastair stared after him and reached certain conclusions. That was the
nose he had seen by the light of Edom's lantern the night he spent with
Kyd at the inn. That was the back he had observed yesterday afternoon
riding away from the Sleeping Deer. Thirdly and most important--and
though his evidence was scanty he had no doubt on the matter--the
gentleman was Sir John Norreys. My lady when she reached Brightwell
would find her husband.



_XI_       _Night at the Same: Two Visitors_


Four nights later Alastair was in his little bedroom at the Sleeping
Deer, dressing by the light of two home-made candles. He had been taken
to this inn by Midwinter because of the honesty of the landlord, who
lived only for trout-fishing, and the facilities of the rambling old
house for a discreet retirement. He was given an attic at the back
where the dwelling part of the building merged in a disused watermill
and granary. There was an entrance to it from the first floor, by way
of a store cupboard; another from the kitchen regions, and still a
third from the mill-house. Accordingly he was able to enter
unobtrusively at any hour of the day or night, and had the further
advantage that the mill-house road led directly to a covert of elders
and so to the hillside. His meals, when he was at home to partake of
them, were brought him by the landlord himself, who also would ascend
to smoke his pipe of an evening, and discuss the habits of Derbyshire
trout as compared with their northern kin.

Clad in his leather and frieze he had spent the days among the valleys
and along the great road. The snow had not melted, but it was bound in
the stricture of a mild frost, and all day a winter sun shone on the
soft white curves of the hills. It was weather to kindle the blood and
lift the heart, and Alastair found his journeys pleasant enough, though
so far fruitless. He had haunted Brightwell like a cattle-lifting
Macgregor looking down on a Lennox byre, and since few could teach him
woodcraft in hilly places, he had easily evaded the race of keepers and
foresters. Twice he had met the man whom he took to be Sir John
Norreys. The first time he had watched him from cover, setting out on
horseback by a track which ran from Brightwell to Dovedale--a man in a
furious hurry, with a twitching bridle-hand and a nervous eye. The
second time he met him full face on the high road, and seemed to be
recognised. Sir John half pulled up, thought better of it, and rode on
with one glance behind him. He had made certain inquiries in the
neighbourhood and learned that the tall gentleman in the fawn coat was
a newcomer and beyond doubt sojourned in Brightwell: but he had a
notion that in that vast decaying pile a man might lodge unbeknown to
the other dwellers. He was curious to discover if Sir John had yet
greeted his lady.

Four days ago she had departed in her coach, fresh horsed from
Brightwell, attended by Mr Johnson and Edom Lowrie. Since then he had
seen no sign of the party. The old house had swallowed them up, and
neither taking the air in the park nor riding on the highway had any
one of them emerged to the outer world. The mystery of the place grew
upon him, till he came to look on the bleak house lying in the
sparkling amphitheatre of hill as the enchanted castle of a fairy tale.
It held a princess and it held a secret--_the_ secret, he was
convinced, most vital to his Prince's cause. He need not scour the
country; in that one dwelling he could read the riddle.

On this, the fourth night of his reconnaissance, he returned to the inn
assured that the first part of his task was over. He must find some way
of entering Brightwell and growing familiar with the household, and his
head was busy with plans as he slipped into the mill-house in the early
dark, and climbed the dusty wooden ladder to the loft which gave on his
attic. In his bedroom stood the landlord.

"I heard ye come in by the mill," he said, "and I'm here because I've
news ye may like to hear. There's a famous gentleman coming here
to-night. Ye'll have heard o' General Oglethorpe, him that's been
fighting in Ameriky? He's coming to his supper, no less. His regiment
is lying down the vale, and an officer rides here this afternoon and
says the General will be to sup sharp at seven o'clock. After that he's
to meet a friend here and wants to be left quiet. He needs no bed, for
he's riding back to his camp when he's done his business. Now, what d'
ye make of that, sir?"

"Where does he sup?" Alastair asked.

"In the Brown Room, the one my lady had."

"When he arrives pray give him a message from me. Say that one who had
the happiness to oblige him a week back is in the house, and will do
himself the honour of waiting on him if he will name the hour. Is that
clear? Now fetch me some hot water, for I must make a toilet."

He got rid of his soaked clothes and assumed his old habit--chocolate
coat and green velvet waistcoat, stockings and buckled shoes, and a
tie-wig new dressed by the landlord. The exposure of the past days had
darkened his skin, and it was a hard-bitten face that looked back at
him from the cracked mirror. Before completing his toilet he lay down
on the truckle bed and stared at the ceiling. Oglethorpe was friendly
to him, and might give him news of moment--he had the name himself of a
Jacobite or at any rate of a lukewarm Hanoverian. But the man the
General was to meet? He had no doubt it was Sir John and he chuckled at
the chance which Fortune had offered him.

As he lay his thoughts roamed wide but always returned to one centre,
the Brown Room at the inn. But it was not Oglethorpe or Sir John that
he saw there, but a slim girl with eyes now ardent, now laughing, now
misty, and a voice that stammered adorably and sang "Diana" like a
linnet. Sometimes he saw Brightwell and its chilly hall, but he saw no
human personage other than the girl, a little forlorn and lost now, but
still happy and dreaming. . . . He pulled himself up sharply. For
the first time in his life a woman's face was filling the eye of his
mind--he, the scorner of trivialities whose whole being was dedicate to
a manly ambition! He felt irritated and a little ashamed, and began
laboriously to examine himself to prove his resolution. Now in the very
crisis of his fate he could least afford a whimsy.

The landlord disturbed him when he had become drowsy.

"The gentleman is here--General Oglethorpe. I give him your message,
and he says, pleasant-like, 'I can guess who the gentleman is. Tell him
that my gratitude is not exhausted and that I will be happy if he will
add to his obligations by giving me his company at supper.' Ye'd better
hasten, sir, for supper is being dished up."

Alastair followed the landlord through the cobwebby back regions of the
store-room and out to the gallery at the head of the stairs whence the
Brown Room opened. He noticed that the dusky corridor was brightly lit
just opposite the room door because of the lamps in the hall below
which shone up a side passage. This glow also revealed in full detail
the map which he had studied on his first night there. As he glanced at
it, the two great roads from the north seemed to stand out like blood,
and Brightwell, a blood-red name, to be the toll-house to shut or open
them.

The Brown Room was bright with candles and firelight, and warming his
back at the hearth stood a tall man in military undress. He was of a
strong harsh aquiline cast of countenance; his skin was somewhat sallow
from the hot countries he had dwelt in, but he carried his forty-odd
years lightly, and, to Alastair's soldier eye, would be a serious
antagonist with whatever weapon of hand or brain. His face relaxed at
the sight of the young man and he held out his hand.

"I am overjoyed to see you again, Mr Maclean. . . . Nay, I never
forget a name or a face . . . I do not ask your business here, nor
will I permit you to ask mine, save in so far as all the world knows
it. I have my regiment billeted at Marlock, and am on my way across
England to Hull, there to join General Wade. In that there is no
secret, for every old woman on Trent side proclaims it. . . . Let us
fall to, sir, for I am plaguily hungry with the frosty air, and this
house has a name for cookery."

General Oglethorpe proved himself a trencherman of the calibre of Mr
Samuel Johnson; that is to say, he ate heartily of
everything--beefsteak pie, roast sirloin, sheep's tongues, cranberry
tarts and a London bag-pudding--and drank a bottle of claret, a quart
of ale, and the better part of a bottle of Madeira. But unlike Mr
Johnson he did not become garrulous, nor did the iron restraint of his
demeanour relax. The board was cleared and he proceeded to brew a dish
of punch, mixing the several ingredients of limes, rum, white sugar and
hot water with the meticulosity of an alchemist. Then he produced from
a flat silver box which he carried in his waistcoat pocket a number of
thin brown sticks, which he offered to his companion.

"Will you try my cigarros, sir? It is a habit which I contracted in
Georgia, and I find them mighty comforting to a campaigner. . . .
You journey northward, Mr Maclean, but you make slow progress." He
smiled with a quizzical kindliness which stripped the martinet's cloak
from him and left only benevolence.

Alastair smiled back. "I journey slowly for I have had mischances. But
I must mend my pace, for I am still far from my home, and my time of
leave passes quick."

"From the French King's service?"

"From the French King's service."

"You are aware that there are certain rumours of war in this land?"

"I heard gossip to that effect in Paris."

General Oglethorpe laughed. "I can guess where your sympathies lie, Mr
Maclean. Your name, your birthplace and your profession are signposts
to them."

"I too have heard tales from which I could hazard a guess at General
Oglethorpe's sentiments," said Alastair.

"Tut, tut, sir. I bear His Majesty's commission and am embarked in His
Majesty's service."

"I could name some in the same case--and with the same sympathies."

The other's brows had descended and he was staring in the fire like a
perplexed bird of prey.

"I do not altogether deny it. I have been a Member of Parliament for
years and I have never concealed my views on politics, sir. I regret
that England ever lost her natural and rightful line of kings. I have
no love for Ministers with their courting of this neighbour, and
baiting of that, and bleeding the commonalty of England for their crazy
foreign wars. I detest and abhor the cabal of greedy bloodsuckers that
call themselves Whigs. I am a Tory, sir, I serve the ancient
constitution of this realm, I love and reverence its Church, and I hold
this mongering of novelties an invention of the Devil. But--and it is a
potent _but_--I cannot wish that this attempt of the Chevalier should
succeed. I must with all my soul hope that it fail and do my best to
ensure that failure."

"Your conclusion scarcely accords with your premises, sir."

"More than may at first sight appear. What has a young man bred abroad
in a vapid Court, and suckled into Papistry, to say to the people of
England?"

"His church is the same as mine, sir. But he is no bigot, and has sworn
to grant to all beliefs that full tolerance which England has denied to
his."

"It is not enough. He is the young gallant, a figure from an old
chivalrous world. Oh, I do not deny his attraction; I do not doubt that
he can charm men's hearts. But, sir, there is a new temper in the land.
You have heard of the people they call Methodists--humble folk, humble
servants of Almighty God, who carry the Gospel to dark places at the
expense of revilings and buffetings and persecutions. I have had them
with me in Georgia, and they fight like Cromwell's Ironsides, they are
tender and merciful and brave, and they preach a hope for the vilest.
With them is the key of the new England, for they bring healing to the
souls of the people. . . . What can your fairy Prince say to the
poor and the hungry?"

General Oglethorpe's eye was lit with a fervour which softened the
rigour of his face into something infinitely gentle. Alastair had no
words to answer so strange a plea.

"But--but King George is no more of that way of thinking than my
Prince," he stammered.

The other nodded. "I am not arguing on behalf of his present Majesty. I
plead for the English people and I want no change, least of all the
violent change of revolution, unless it be to their benefit. A mere
transfer of monarchs will do small good to them, and it will bring
needless suffering to the innocent. Therefore, I, James Oglethorpe, who
am reputed a Jacobite, will do my utmost to nip this rising in the bud
and confine it to the barbarous parts of the North. In the service of
my country I will pretermit no effort to keep England neutral in the
quarrel, for it is in England's participation that the danger lies."

Alastair deemed it wise not to answer, but, as he regarded this man who
was now his declared opponent, he felt the satisfaction of a fighter
who faces an honourable foe. Here was one whose hand he could clasp
before he crossed swords.

"I am no Englishman," he said, "and therefore I am remote from this
particular controversy."

The other's eye burned with a fanatic's heat. "I will fight like a
tiger for England against all who would do her hurt. God forgive them,
but there are many on my side whose hearts are like rotten eggs. They
are carrion crows who flock wherever there is blood and pain. In times
of civil strife, sir, the base can make money. Had you travelled north
by Chester you would have passed through a land of fat pastures and
spreading parks and snug manors, and had you asked the name of the
fortunate owner you would have been told Sir Robert Grosvenor. You know
the name? A worthy gentleman and somewhat of your way of thinking. Now
Sir Robert's mother was an heiress and all the faubourgs of London
between St James' and Kensington village were her fortune. Whence came
that fortune, think you, to enrich the honest knights of Cheshire?
'Twas the fortune of an ancient scrivener who bought up forfeited lands
from Cromwell's Government, bought cheap, and sold most profitably at
his leisure. There are other fortunes to-day waiting for the skilled
broker of fines and attainders. But to make the profit there must be a
forfeiture, and for the forfeiture there must be first the treason.
Therefore it is in the interest of base men to manufacture rebels, to
encourage simple folk to take blindly some irrevocable and fatal step.
Do you follow me?"

Alastair nodded automatically. He saw as in a long vista a chain of
infamies and the name to them was Sir John Norreys.

"The scoundrels must be in the confidence of both sides," Oglethorpe
went on. "With their victims they are honest Jacobites, but next day
they are closeted with Mr Pelham in Whitehall. They will draw a poor
innocent so far that he will lose his estate, but they will prevent his
loss being of service to the Prince."

The man had risen and strode about the room, a formidable figure of
wrath, with his jaw set sternly and his eyes hard.

"Do you know my purpose, Mr Maclean? So far as the Almighty permits me,
I will save the pigeon from the crow. The pigeon will be hindered from
meddling in matters of Government, his estate will be saved to him, and
the crow, please God, will be plucked. Do you commend my policy?"

"It is the conduct of an honest gentleman, sir, and though I may not
share your politics I would hope to share your friendship."

Oglethorpe's face relaxed into the convivial kindliness it had shown at
supper.

"Then two friends and honourable opponents will shake hands and bid
farewell. You will be for bed, sir, and I must return presently to my
regiment."

But as the young man left the room the General seemed in no hurry to
call for his horse. He flung another log on the fire, and stood by the
hearth with his brows knit in meditation.

Alastair retired to his bedroom but did not undress. His brain was
dazzled with new light, and he saw all the events of the past weeks in
a new and awful perspective. This man Norreys was the traitor, the
_agent provocateur_ who lured honest clodpoles to their doom and
pocketed his commission on their ruin. That was what Sir Christopher
Lacy had said at Cornbury--the man cared only for gain. But he must be
a rogue of vast accomplishments, for he had deceived a proud lady, and
he had won the confidence of a shrewd Scots lawyer. It was Kyd's
beguilement that staggered him. He, a sagacious man of affairs, had
used a traitor as an agent for the most precious news--news which
instead of going straight to the Prince would be transferred to the
enemy and used for honest men's undoing. General Oglethorpe would
prevent the fellow from making his foul profit; it was the business of
Alastair Maclean to stamp the breath from him, to rid the Prince's
cause of a menace and the world of a villain.

He mused on this strange thing, England, which was like a spell on
sober minds. Midwinter had told of Old England like a lover of his
mistress, and here was this battered traveller, this Oglethorpe,
thrilling to the same fervour. That was something he had not met
before. He had been trained to love his family and clan and the hills
of his home, and a Prince who summed up centuries of wandering loyalty.
But his devotion had been for the little, intimate things, and not for
matters large and impersonal like a country or a people. He felt
himself suddenly and in very truth a stranger and alone. The Prince,
the chiefs, the army--they were all of them strangers here. How could
they ask for loyalty from what they so little understood?

The reflection pained him and he put it from him and turned to his
immediate business. Kicking off his shoes, he tiptoed back through the
store-cupboard and into the long corridor, at the end of which he saw
the bright reflection from the hall lamp falling on the map and the
Brown Room door. He listened, but there was no sound except a faint
clatter from far away in the direction of the kitchen, where presumably
the General's servant waited on his master's orders. He stole to the
door of the Brown Room for a second, and played the eavesdropper. Yes,
there were voices within, a low voice speaking fast, and another
replying in monosyllables. He had no wish to overhear them, so he crept
back to the store-room door, where he was securely hid. Thence he could
see all that he wanted, in the patch of light by the map.

He did not wait long. The door opened, and a figure was illumined for
one instant in profile before it turned to descend the stairs. It was a
tall man in a long riding-coat which he had unbuttoned in the warmth of
the room. He bowed his head a little as one does when one walks
stealthily, and his lips were tightly pursed. But where was the sharp
nose like a pen, and the pale complexion of Sir John? This man had a
skin like red sandstone, a short blunt nose and a jovial mouth. He cast
one glance at the map, and then went softly down the staircase.

With a queer flutter of the heart Alastair recognised Mr Nicholas Kyd.



_XII_      _The Hut in the Oak Shaw_


The sinking at the heart disappeared long before Alastair reached his
attic, and was replaced by a violent heat of anger. He lit a candle,
for the dark irked him, and sat on his bed with his face as scarlet as
if it had been buffeted. He felt his temples throb and a hot dryness at
the back of his throat. For the moment thoughts of the dire peril to
the Cause were swallowed up in natural fury at a rogue.

Blind fool that he had been! All the steps were now bitterly clear in
his bedraggled Odyssey. At Cornbury Kyd had been sowing tares in my
lord's mind--not in partnership with the Duchess Kitty, of that he was
assured--he did not believe that that vivacious lady, Whig as she might
be, was a partner of his villainy. From the first encounter at the
roadside inn the man had dogged him; perhaps that meeting had been
premeditated. The scene at Flambury, the accusing mummer in Squire
Thicknesse's Justice Room, the well-informed warrant, Ben the Gypsy and
his treachery--all were the doing of the pawky Lammermuir laird.
General Oglethorpe would use his services but prevent his getting his
reward; but there were others less scrupulous, and anyhow these
services spelled death to the Prince's fortunes. . . . A second
Grosvenor fortune would be achieved! No, by God, it should not, if
Alastair Maclean were left another six months alive!

Sir John Norreys was the man's tool, and the news from the West passed
through him to Kingston and Wade, and Ligonier and Cumberland, and Mr
Pelham in London. Mr Pelham doubtless had taken steps. He would arrest
the levy in the West before it had grown dangerous; and the fines and
forfeitures of broken loyalists would go to enrich the Exchequer and Mr
Nicholas Kyd of Greyhouses. . . . He had lost his dislike of Sir
John. That huckstering baronet was only an instrument in the hand of a
cleverer knave.

But why was Kyd here, when he had sent Edom to Brightwell with the news
that he was not to be looked for before the close of the month? He did
not believe that Edom had lied, so either there was a deeper game
afoot, or Kyd had changed his plans. He thought the latter, for even
rogues were the sport of circumstance. Some news had reached him of
surpassing importance and he had posted all that way to see Oglethorpe,
who, as a former Jacobite, would be the more readily believed by the
Government when he acted against his former friends.

It stood to reason that Kyd would visit Brightwell, to see Norreys, to
instruct his servant--some errand or other, even if he returned next
day to the South. Brightwell was the Philippi of the campaign, the
place of meetings, or why had Norreys been sent there? Even now the
laird's ruddy visage and the baronet's lean jaw might be close together
in some damnable machination. . . . And the lady, the poor lady. At
the thought of her Alastair clenched his hands, and shut his eyes tight
to kill the pain in them. That poor nymph, that dainty innocence in
such a den of satyrs!

And then, oddly enough, his mood changed to a happier one as the
picture of Claudia Norreys brightened on the screen of his memory.
Please God, she was cut off now for ever from the man she called
husband. Her eyes must soon be opened, and he pictured her loathing,
her horror of disgust. There were other thoughts at the back of his
mind, which he choked down, for this was no time for pretty fancies.
But it comforted him to think that he was fighting for the happiness of
the girl who sang "Diana."

He slept little and at dawn was up and dressed in his frieze and
leather, his coarse stockings and his hob-nailed shoes. The frost was
passing, and a mild south wind blew up the vale, softening the snow
crust and sending runnels of water down the hollows and eaves of the
great drifts. Alastair found the landlord breakfasting in the
dog-kennel he called his room.

"I am going to Brightwell," he told him, "and may be absent for days.
Expect me back when you see me. Keep my room locked, and leave the key
as before in the crack below the broken axle-hole of the mill." Then he
stepped out-of-doors, where the milkers were just opening the byres,
and soon was on the hillside with his face to the High Peak.

He crossed the high road and looked at the tracks. There was one fresh
and clear, that of a man in heavy boots plodding towards the inn. There
were faint hoof marks also, but they seemed to be old. He reflected
that the thaw could not have begun till after midnight, and that if Kyd
had ridden this road his horse's track would have shown no more than
the others of yesterday.

The sun was well above the horizon when he reached the park wall of
Brightwell and entered the demesne by his usual gap. It was a morning
like early spring, when the whole world was full of melting snows,
running waters and light breezes. His plan was to go to the wood which
overhung the kitchen yard and gave a prospect of the house and all its
environs. There he would watch till noon, in the hope that either Kyd
would appear or one of Lady Norreys' party. If the former, he would
follow him and have the interview for which his soul longed; if the
latter, then he would find a way of getting speech and learning the
nature of the household. If nothing happened by noon, he would contrive
to make his way into the kitchen as before, and trust to his wits to
find an errand.

He saw no one as he forded the now turbulent stream and climbed the
farther slope to the wood of hazels and ashes which clung like an
eyebrow to the edge of a bare grey bluff, beneath which were the roofs
of the rearmost outbuildings. But as he entered the wood he received a
shock. Suddenly he had the consciousness that he was being observed,
which comes as from a special sense to those who have lived much in
peril of their lives in lonely places. He cowered like a rabbit, and
seemed to detect very faint and far-off movements in the undergrowth
which were too harsh and sudden for a wild animal. Then they ceased,
and the oppression passed. He threaded his way through the undergrowth
to his old lair beside a stone, where a tangle of fern hid his head,
and there he sat him down to wait.

It was a very wet anchorage. The frozen ground beneath him was melting
into slush, rivulets descended from the branches, vagrant winds blew
avalanches of melting snow like hail in his face. He grew cold and
stiff, and there was no such drama on the stage before him as might
have caused him to forget his icy stall. He saw in every detail the
morning awakening of a Derbyshire manor. A man with his head tied up in
a stocking wheeled barrow-loads of chopped logs from the wood-hovel;
another brought milk pails from the byres; while two stable-boys led
out to water various horses, among which Alastair recognised those once
ridden by Mr Johnson and Edom. The butler Bennet, wearing a kind of
dingy smock, shuffled out-of-doors and cried shrilly for someone who
failed to appear. Then came a long spell of quiet--breakfast, thought
Alastair. It was broken by a stout fellow in boots, whom he had not
seen before, coming from the direction of the kitchen, shouting the
name of "Peter." Peter proved to be one of the stable-boys, who, having
been goaded by a flight of oaths into activity, produced in a space of
five minutes a horse saddled and bridled and tolerably well groomed.
This the man in boots led round to the front of the house, and
presently, out from the shelter of the leafless avenue, appeared Sir
John Norreys, in a hurry as usual and heading for the bridle-path to
Dovedale.

This told Alastair two things. First, that in all likelihood Mr Kyd had
never been to Brightwell, or had left earlier, otherwise Sir John would
scarcely have fled his company. Second, that the said Sir John had been
restored to his lady and was living openly in the house, and not, as he
had half suspected, hidden in some priest-hole in the back parts.

The morning passed on leaden wings, for the thought that Kyd was not
there had dashed Alastair's spirits. Once he seemed to hear the sound
of breathing close at hand, and after some search traced it to a deep
bed of leaves under which a hedgehog was snoring in its winter sleep.
Once the pied snout of a badger, returning late to his earth, parted
the thicket. Just before noon he saw that which set his mind off on a
new tack. Down the valley, a matter of half a mile from the house, a
brook entered the stream from the west, and, since the hills there
overhung the water, flowed for the last part of its course in a
miniature ravine. Both sides of the dell were thickly covered with
scrub oak, but glades had been cut, and at the intersection of two on
the near bank stood a thatched hut. Alastair had noticed it before, and
from his present eyrie it was clearly visible.

Below him in the courtyard the butler suddenly appeared and, shading
his eyes, looked down the valley. Then he took from his pocket a
handkerchief and waved it three times, staring hard after each wave.
Alastair followed his gaze and saw that he was looking towards the oak
wood. Presently from the hut there a figure emerged, waved a white rag
three times, and disappeared in the scrub. The butler seemed satisfied,
and turned back to the house, from which he emerged again with a
covered basket. A boy rose from a bench, took the basket and set off at
a boy's trot. Alastair watched his progress and noted that he did not
take the direct road, but kept unobtrusively in the shade of thickets.
He avoided the glades and reached the hut by an overland route through
the scrub. He seemed to stay about a minute within, and then hurried
back by the way he had gone. The butler was waiting for him in the
yard, and the two talked for a little, after which the boy went off
whistling.

There was someone in the hut in the oak scrub--someone who was being
fed, and who did not wish to reveal himself to the house. It could only
be Kyd. At the notion Alastair's face flushed and he forgot his cold
vigil. The road was open for that meeting with Kyd, alone and secure,
which was his main desire. Having satisfied himself that the coast was
clear, he began to worm his way along the hillside.

At the edge of the covert he reconnoitred again. A figure had revealed
itself in the pleasance which skirted one side of the house--a large
figure which took the air on a green walk and appeared to be reading,
with a book held very near its eyes. It was Mr Samuel Johnson, and for
one moment he hesitated as to whether he should not first have speech
with him. There was ample cover to reach him by way of a sunk fence. It
was a critical decision, had he known it, but he took it lightly. His
duty and his pleasure was first to settle with Kyd.

He reached the oak shaw without difficulty, and, like the boy, shunned
the glades and squeezed through the thick undergrowth. He stopped once,
for he thought he heard a faint whistle, but decided that it was only a
bird. There were no windows in the hut, which, as he neared it, proved
to be a far solider thing than he had imagined, being built of stout
logs, jointed between stouter uprights, and roofed in with thatch as
carefully woven as that of a dwelling-house. He listened, but all was
quiet within.

The door yielded and he stepped inside with a quick motion, drawing it
behind him, for the place was in sight of the house. . . . Then
something smote him in the dark. He felt himself falling, and threw out
his hand, which gripped only on vacancy and blackness. . . .


The first pin-prick of consciousness found him climbing. There was a
sound of sea water in his ears, and the salt tingled in his eyes and
nostrils, for he had been diving from the Frenchman's Rock and was
still breathless with it. Now he was going up and up steeps of bracken
and granite to the flat top where the ripe blackberries were. He was on
Eilean a Fhraoich, had crossed over that morning in Angus Og's coble--a
common Saturday's ploy. . . . But he found it very hard to get up
the ledges, for they were always slipping from beneath him, and only
wild clutches at the bracken kept him from slithering down to the
beach. Also his head sang abominably, and there was a queer smell in
his nose, more than salt, a smell like burning--burning lime. He wished
he had not dived so deep. . . . Then his eyes suddenly stabbed him
with pain and the beach of Eilean a Fhraoich disappeared, and the sun
and the sky and the dancing sea. All was black now, with a pin-point of
light which was not the sun.

"Ye struck him over hard, Ben," a voice said.

"Never you fear," came the answer. "I know the stout pretty heads of
these Scotchmen." He waved the light over his face. "See, he is coming
round already."

Alastair would have liked to speak, for he was worried about Eilean a
Fhraoich and the smell in his nose was overpowering. But as his voice
struggled to emerge it woke a deadly nausea, and he seemed to sink
again down, down through cottony worlds of utter feebleness. . . .

His next conscious moment found him lying with his head propped up,
while someone tried to open his lips with a spoon and pour hot liquid
between them. The stuff burned his throat but did not sicken him. He
moved himself to take it better and discovered that the slightest
motion shot a flight of arrows through his head, arrows of an
intolerable pain. So he kept very still, only opening his eyes by slow
degrees. It was very dark, but there was a tiny light somewhere which
showed a hand and arm moving from a bowl to his mouth and back
again. . . . He began to piece his surroundings together. He was
indoors somewhere and someone was feeding him, but beyond that he could
tell nothing, so he slipped back into sleep.

After that he began to come again more frequently to the world, and the
pain in his head and eyes bothered him less. He knew when meal-time
came, for it was preceded by a dazzling brightness (which was daylight
through the open door) and attended by a lesser light, which was a
stable lantern. Slowly he began to reason and observe, and work his way
back till he saw suddenly in his mind's eye the outside of the hut, and
could remember the last waking moment. Then he heard a man's voice
which woke a chord in his memory, and further bits of the past emerged.
Soon he reached a stage when in a flood the whole story of his journeys
and perplexities rolled back into his mind, and he grew sick again with
a worse kind of nausea. Still he could not quite recapture the link; he
saw everything up to a certain noon, and realised the dim world which
now enveloped him, but he could not find the archway between the two.
Then one day the hand that brought his food left the door wide open,
and in the light of it he saw a dark gypsy-looking fellow who smiled
impishly but not malevolently.

"No ill will, dear pretty gentleman," he whined. "You knew too much and
were proving too inquisitive, so them as I obeys bade me put you to
sleep for a tidy bit. No harm is meant you, so eat your pretty dinner
and say your pretty prayers and go beddie-bye like a good little
master. You're picking up strength like a cub fox."

Alastair saw again the dim door of the hut, felt the musty darkness,
and the fiery pain that seemed to rend his skull. Now he had the tale
complete.

The gypsy left him to feed himself, which was achieved at the expense
of spilling a third of the soup. He sat on a pile of ash poles,
swinging his legs, and preening himself like a jay.

"Ben was too clever for you, my dainty gentleman. He was a-watching for
you days back, and when you was a-creeping belly-flat Ben was never a
dozen yards behind you. He was in the wood above the stable that
morning when you arrived, and 'twas him as arranged the play about the
Shaw Hut with old Bennet. Not but what you had a pretty notion of
travelling, my dear, and nimble legs to you. I owed you one for the day
with Oglethorpe's soldiers and I paid it that morning at the Flambury
meet. Now you owes me one for this device, and I'm waiting to pay it.
All for a bit of sport is Ben."

Alastair let him brag and asked him but the one question. "How long
have I been here?"

"Nineteen days," said the gypsy. "This is now the second day of
December."

The news would have put the young man into a fever had his wits been
strong enough to grasp its full meaning. As it was, he only felt hazily
that things had gone very ill with him, without any impulse to take the
wheel from Destiny's hand and turn it back.

All morning he drowsed. He was not uncomfortable, for he had a bed of
bracken and rushes and sufficient blankets for the mild winter weather.
An old woman, the wife of the butler, brought water and bathed his head
daily, and the food, which was soup or stew of game, was good and
sufficient. That day for the first time he felt his strength returning,
and as the hours passed restlessness grew on him. It was increased by
an incident which happened in the afternoon. He was awakened from a
doze by the sound of steps and voices without. Two people were walking
there, and since there were interstices between the logs of the wall it
was possible to overhear their conversation.

Said one, a female voice, "He left Manchester two days ago?"

"Two days ago, St Andrew's Day," was the reply, "and therefore a day of
happy omen for a Scot."

"So in two days he will be in D-derby."

That stammer he would have known in the babble of a thousand tongues.
The other--who could he be but her husband, and the man they spoke of
but the Prince?

A hand was laid on the latch and the door shook. Then a key was
inserted and the lock turned. Alastair lay very quiet, but below his
eyelids he saw the oblong of light blocked by a figure. That figure
turned in profile the better to look at him, and he saw a sharp nose.

"He is asleep," said the man to his companion without. "He has been
sick, for there was a sharp scuffle before he was taken, but now he is
mending. Better for him, poor devil, had he died!"

"Oh, Jack, what will they do with him?"

"That is for His Highness to decide. A traitor's death, at any rate. He
may get the benefit of his French commission and be shot, or he may
swing like better men in hemp."

The other voice was quivering and anxious. "I cannot credit it. Oh,
Jack, I am convinced that there is error somewhere. He may yet clear
himself."

"Tut, the man was caught in open treason, intercepting messages from
the West and handing them to the Government. His lies to you prove his
guilt. He professed to be hastening to the Prince, and he is taken here
crouching in a wood fifty miles from his road, but conveniently near
General Ligonier and the Duke of Kingston."

The door was shut and the key turned, but not before Alastair heard
what he took for a sigh.

There was no sleep for him that night. His head had cleared, his blood
ran easily again, the strength had come back to his limbs, and every
nerve in him was strung to a passion of anger. His fury was so great
that it kept him calm. Most desperately had things miscarried. The
Prince was on the threshold of the English midlands, and all these
weeks Kyd and Norreys had been at their rogueries unchecked. Where were
the western levies now? What devil's noose awaited the northern army,
marching into snares laid by its own professed allies? Worse, if worse
were possible, the blame would be laid on him; Norreys and Kyd had so
arranged it that he would pass as traitor; doubtless they had their
cooked evidence in waiting. And in the dear eyes of the lady he was
guilty, her gentle heart wept for his shame. At the memory of her
voice, as it had made its last protest, he could have beaten his head
on the ground.

His bonds had always been light--a long chain with a padlock clasping
his left ankle and fastened to a joist of the hut--for his captors
trusted to the strength of the walls and his frail condition. During
the night he worked at this and managed so to weaken one of the links
that he thought he could break it at will. But the morning brought him
a bitter disappointment. Some fresh orders must have been issued, for
Gypsy Ben produced new fetters of a more formidable type, which bound
Alastair to a narrow radius of movement. As a make-weight he did not
lock the door, but left it ajar. "You're like me, gentleman dear," he
said; "you like the sky over you and to hear birds talking round about.
I can humour you in that, if you don't mind a shorter tether."

It was a fine morning, the third of December, with a loud frolicking
wind and clouds that sailed in convoys. In black depression of heart
Alastair watched the tiny half-moon of landscape vouchsafed to him,
three yards of glade, a clump of hazels, the scarred grey bole of an
ancient oak. He had toiled at his bonds till every muscle was wrung,
and he had not moved a link or coupling one fraction of an inch.
Breathless, furious, despairing, he watched a pert robin approaching
the door in jerks, when the bird rose startled at someone's approach.
Alastair, lifting dreary eyes, saw the homely countenance of Edom.

The man cried out, and stood staring.

"Guid sake, sir, is this the way of it? I heard that something ill had
happened to ye, but I never jaloused this."

Hungry eyes read the speaker's face, and saw nothing there but honest
perplexity.

"They have invented a lie," Alastair said, "and call me a traitor. Do
you believe it?"

"Havers," said Edom cheerfully. "They never telled me that, or they'd
have got the lee in their chafts. Whae said it? Yon lang wersh lad they
ca' Sir John?"

"Is your master here?"

"He's comin' the morn and I'm michty glad o't. For three weeks I've
been like a coo in an unco loan. But, Captain Maclean, sir, I'm wae for
you, sittin' sae gash and waefu' in this auld bourock."

Alastair's eyes had never left Edom's face, and suddenly his mind was
made up. He resolved to trust everything to this man's honesty.

"You can help me if you will. Can I count on you?"

"If it's onything reasonably possible," said the cautious Edom.

"I need friends. I want you to summon them."

"I'll be blithe to do that."

"You know the country round and the inns?"

"I've traivelled the feck o't on my twae feet and sampled the maist o'
the publics."

"Then find a cross-roads which has broom on the signpost or an inn with
an open eye painted under the sign. Whistle this air," and he hummed
Midwinter's ditty.

Edom made a tolerable attempt at it. "I mind ye whustled that when we
were huntit i' the big wud. And after that?"

"Someone will come to you and ask your errand. Tell him of my plight
and direct him or guide him here."

Edom nodded, and without more ado turned and swung out for the
river-bridge and the high road.



_XIII_      _Journeyman John_


The hours passed slowly, for Alastair was in a ferment of hope and
fear, into which like lightning-flashes in a dark sky shot now and then
a passion of fury, as he remembered Claudia Norreys. He had not seen
her as she stood outside the hut, but he could picture the sad
disillusionment of her eyes, and the quiver of her mouth as she
protested against a damning truth which she yet needs must believe. Her
gentle voice sounded maddeningly in his ears. He could not forecast
what his fate might be, he could not think settled thoughts, he could
not plan; his mind was in that helplessness in which man falls back
upon prayer.

The afternoon drew to a quiet sunset. The door of the hut remained
open, and through it he saw the leafless knotted limbs of the oaks,
which had before been a grey tracery against the smoky brown of the
scrub, fire with gold and russet. There was no sign of Edom or his
friends, but that at the best he could hardly hope for till late, there
was no sign of his gaoler or of any living thing--he was left alone
with the open door before him, and the strict fetters on his limbs. The
sun sank, the oaks grew grey again, a shiver went through the earth as
the night cold descended. The open space in the door had turned to
ebony dark before there was a sound of steps.

It was Ben the Gypsy, and he had two others with him, whom Alastair
could not see clearly in the light of the single lantern. The man
seemed in high excitement.

"'Tis time to be stirring, pretty gentleman," he chirruped. "Hey for
the high road and the hills in the dark o' the moon, says I. No time
for supper, neither, but there'll be a long feast and a fine feast
where you're going. Up with him, Dick lad and Tony lad. I'm running no
risks with the bonds of such a fiery fearless gentleman."

Two stalwart followers swung him in their arms, and marched down one of
the glades, the gypsy with the lanthorn dancing before, like a
will-o'-the-wisp. At the foot of the slope were horses, and on one of
them--a ragged shelty--they set him, undoing his leg bonds, and
fastening them again under the animal's belly. The seat was not
uncomfortable, for he had his feet in stirrups of a sort, but it was
impossible for him to escape. His hands they tied, and one of the party
took the shelty's bridle.

The road ran up-hill, first through woods and then in a waste of
bracken and heather and scree. Black despair was Alastair's portion.
His enemies had triumphed, for even if Edom discovered some of
Midwinter's folk, they would find the hut empty, and how could they
trace him by night over such trackless country? His body as well as his
heart was broken, for the sudden change from the inertia of the hut
made every limb ache and set his head swimming. Soon he was so weary
that he lost all count of the way. Dimly he was conscious that they
descended into glens and climbed again to ridges, but the growing chill
and greater force of the wind told him that they were steadily rising.
Presently the wrack was blown off the face of the sky, the winter
regiment of stars shone out, and in their faint radiance he saw all
about him the dark fields of the hills. Often he thought himself
fainting. Repeatedly he would have fallen, but for the belly girth, and
more than once he bowed over his horse's neck in deep weariness. Ben
the Gypsy spoke to him, but as he did not answer rode ahead, with his
lantern bobbing like a ship's riding light in a gusty harbour.

Then Alastair fell asleep, and was tortured by nightmares. Indeed all
the latter part of the journey was a nightmare, sleeping and waking,
for it was a steady anguish, half muffled by a sense of crazy
unreality. When the party stopped at last, he came back from caverns of
confused misery, and when the belly-girth was cut fell leadenly to the
ground. The ride in an unnatural position had given him a violent cramp
in his right leg, and the sharp pain woke him to clear consciousness.
He was picked up and carried inside some building, and as he crossed
the threshold had a vision of steep walls of cliff all about him.

After that he must have slept, for when he next remembered he was lying
on a settle before a fire of peat and heather-roots, and, watching him
through the smoke, sat Gypsy Ben, whittling a stick with a long, fine
shagreen-handled knife.

"Feeling happier now?" the gypsy asked. "Soon it will be supper time
and after that the soft bed and the long sleep, my darling dear. Ben's
are the kind hands."

Something in the voice made Alastair shake off his torpor. The gypsy,
as he first remembered him, had been a mischievous sneering fellow, and
he had longed to wring his neck when he rode off grinning that day at
the Flambury Hunt. In the hut he had been almost friendly, protesting
that he bore no malice but only obeyed orders. But now--there was
something bright and mad about those dark dancing eyes, something
ghoulish in the soft gloating voice. Had his orders been changed? What
plan of his foes was served by bringing him thus into this
no-man's-land of the hills?

"Why am I here?" he asked, and his tongue so stumbled between his dry
lips that the gypsy passed him a jug of ale that was being kept warm by
the fire.

"Orders, kind precious sir. Them that I obeys has changed their mind
about you, and thinks you are too dear and good for this wicked, wicked
world. Therefore they hands you over to Gypsy Ben, who brings you the
straight way to Journeyman John."

The other looked puzzled, and the gypsy rose and, dancing to a far end
of the room, opened a large rough door like a partition in a cowshed.
Instantly a great gust swept the place, driving clouds of fine dust
from the hearth. A noise came from that darkness beyond the door, a
steady rumbling and grinding which had been a mere undercurrent of
sound when the door was shut, but now dominated the place--a sound like
mill-stones working under a full press of water, joined with a curious
shuddering like wind in an old garret. The gypsy stood entranced, one
hand to his ear, his eyes glittering.

"That's him we call Journeyman John. Hark to him grinding his old
teeth! Ah, John, hungry again! But cheer up, there's a fine supper
a-coming."

He shut the door as a showman shuts a cage. The light died out of his
eyes, leaving only smouldering fires.

"That's the deepest pot-hole in all the land," he said, "and John like
a scaly serpent lies coiled at the foot of it. Nothing that goes in
there comes out--leastways only in threads and buttons by way of
Eldingill, and that long after. There's your bed made for you, master,
and it's Ben's duty to tuck you in. Oh, Ben's a kind mammy."

The young man's brain had been slow to grasp the fate prepared for him,
but the crazy leer which accompanied the last words brought a hideous
illumination, and at the same time the faintest ray of hope. The man
was clearly a madman, and therefore incalculable. With a great effort
Alastair steeled his heart and composed his voice.

"What of supper?" he asked. "That comes before bed in a hospitable
house."

The gypsy laughed like a magpie, high and harsh. "Supper be it!" he
cried, "and a good one, for John is a generous host. Hey, Bobadilla!"

An old woman answered his cry and proceeded to lay on the table plates
and glasses, a platter of bread and the end of a cheese. Presently she
came back with a great dish of frizzling eggs and fried ham. The gypsy
lifted the jug of ale from the fireside, and drew in a chair to the
board.

"Mammy will feed her pretty chick," he said, "for the chick's claws are
too dangerous to loose."

Alastair's heart had ceased fluttering, and an immense composure had
settled upon him. He had even an appetite, and was able to swallow the
portion of eggs and ham which the gypsy conveyed to his mouth on the
end of his knife. The ale was most welcome, for his thirst was fierce,
and the warmth and the spice of it recalled his bodily strength. By now
he was recovering a manlier resolution. He was a soldier and had faced
death often, though never in so gruesome a form. If it were the end, so
let it be, but he would not abandon hope while breath was in his body.
He even forced himself to a laugh.

"Tell me of this Journeyman John," he asked. "What house is this that
he lurks behind?"

"A poor farm called Pennycross, with no neighbour nearer than six
miles. Goody Lugg is the farmer, a worthy widow who looks after a cow
and a dozen wethers and leaves the care of John to Ben and his friends.
Mighty convenient fellow is John to keep in a neighbourhood. If a girl
would be quit of a love-child or a wife of a stepson they come to Ben
to do their business. Ay, pretty sir, and John has had dainty meat.
Listen," and he thrust his face close to Alastair. "I have done a job
or two for Lord Dash and Lord Mash--naming no names, as being against
my sworn oath--when they were in trouble with petticoats no longer
wanted. And before my time there was the young heir of Crokover--you've
heard that tale. Ay, ay, the Journeyman does his work swift and clean
and lasting and keeps mum!"

"Who paid you to bring me here?"

The gypsy grinned cunningly. "Since I swore no oaths and you'll never
live to peach, you shall hear. Down in Brightwell live two grey
she-corbies. 'Twas them gave Ben the office."

"No other?"

"No other except a red-faced Scot that rides the roads like a packman.
Him I have not seen for weeks, but the corbies in Brightwell work to
his bidding. All three love the bright yellow gold."

"Sir John Norreys had a part in it?"

"Nay, nay, pretty sir. Sir John, brave gentleman, was privy to your
capture and imprisonment, but he knows nothing of this night's work. He
is too young and raw for so rare a thing as my John."

"You are paid well, I fancy. What if I were to pay you better to let me
go?"

"What you have is already mine," said the gypsy.

"A large sum will be brought you in twelve hours if you will let me
send a message, and as proof of good faith I will remain here in your
power till it is paid."

The gypsy's eye glittered with what was not greed.

"Though you filled my hat with guineas, my darling, I would not let you
go. John is hungry, for it is long since he tasted proper meat, and I
have promised him that to-night he shall sup. I have whispered it in
his great ear, and he has purred happily like a cat. Think you I would
disappoint John? Do not fear, pretty sir. It is midwinter and the world
is cold, and full of hard folks and wan cheeks and pinched bellies. But
down with John there is deep sleep and it is sunny and warm, for the
fires of Hell burn next door. Nay, nay, John is not the Devil, but only
a cousin on the spindle side."

In spite of his resolution Alastair felt his blood chilling as the
gypsy babbled. Hope had grown very faint, for what could he do,
manacled as he was, in a struggle against a lithe and powerful madman,
who could call in the other companions of the night to help him? The
undercurrent of sound seemed to be growing louder, and the wooden
partition shook a little with the reverberation. How many minutes would
pass before he was falling into that pit of echoing darkness!

"When does John sup?" he asked.

"When he calls for supper," was the answer. "At a certain hour each
night the noise of his grinding becomes louder. Hark, it is beginning
now. In less than half an hour he will speak. . . . You have a ring
on your finger, a pretty ring--give it to Ben that it may remind him of
a happy night and a sweet gentleman."

"Why do you ask for it when I am in your power, and it is yours for the
taking?"

"Because a thing gifted is better than a thing taken. Plunder a man
must sell, but a gift he can wear. If I had a dead man's hat on my head
took from his body, it would be crying out in my ears, but if he had
kindly given it me, it would fit well and hold its peace. I want that
ring that I may wear it and kiss it and call to mind my darling dear."

The gypsy seized the hand and peered at the ring, a heavy jasper cut
with the crest of Morvern, a tower embattled.

"Set free my hands, then, and I will give it you," said Alastair.

The gypsy grinned cunningly. "And risk your strong fingers at my
throat, my pretty one. Nay, nay. Just say the words, 'I gift my ring
freely and lovingly to Gypsy Ben,' and hark to the service I will do
you. With my own hand I will cut your pretty throat, and save you the
cruel fall down, down into the darkness. Most gentlemen fear that more
than death. 'Tis unfair to the Journeyman, for he's no raven that can
put up with dead carrion, but a peregrine who kills what he eats. But
for this once he will pardon his servant Ben. Say the words, gentleman
dear. See, it is getting very close on supper time and John is crying
out."

He lifted his hand, an eldritch and evil figure, and sure enough the
noise of the grinding had risen till it was like a storm in the night.
The wooden partition and the windows at the far side of the room
rattled violently and the whole place, roof, walls and rafters,
shuddered. In a tumult a small sound pitched in a different key will
sometimes make itself heard, and on Alastair's ear there fell something
like a human voice. It may have been fancy, but, though he had
abandoned hope, it encouraged him to play for time.

"I do not fear the darkness," he said, "or death in the darkness. But
it is a notion of my family to die in the daylight. I will gladly speak
the words which gift you the ring if you will let me live till dawn. It
cannot be far distant."

The gypsy took from his fob a vast old silver watch. "Nay, sir, not
till daybreak, which is still four hours distant. But John shall wait
for one half-hour on his supper, and he cannot complain, for he will
have the killing of it himself. Take your pleasure, then, for thirty
minutes by this clock which Ben had of the Miller of Bryston before he
was hanged at Derby. What shall we do to make the moments go merrily?
Shall Ben sing to you, who soon will be singing with angels?"

The gypsy was on his feet now, his face twitching with excitement and
his eyes like two coals. He skipped on the table and cut a step.

"You shall see the Gallows Jig, darling mine, which goes to the tune of
'Fairladies.'"

With grace and skill he threaded his way among the dishes on the stout
oaken board, showing a lightness of foot amazing in one wearing heavy
riding-boots.

"Bravo," cried Alastair. "If I were unshackled I would give you the
sword-dance as we dance it in the Highlands." If the maniac could be
absorbed in dance and song he might forget the passage of time. Somehow
the young man believed that with daylight he would have a chance of
salvation.

The gypsy leaped from the table, and took a long pull at the ale jug.

"Sing in turn or sing in chorus," he cried. "Raise a ditty, precious
gentleman."

Alastair's dry throat produced a stave of Desportes--a love song which
he had last heard at a _fête champêtre_ at Fontainebleau. The gypsy
approved and bellowed a drinking catch. Then to Alastair's surprise he
lowered his voice and sang very sweetly and truly the song of "Diana."
The delicate air, with the fragrance of the wildwood in it, pierced
Alastair like a sword. He remembered it as Midwinter had sung it--as
Claudia Norreys had crooned it, one foot beating time by the hearth and
the glow of firelight on her slim body. It roused in him a new daring
and a passionate desire to live. He saw, by a glance at the watch which
lay on the table, that the half-hour had already been exceeded.

"Nobly sung," he cried. "Where got you that song?"

"Once I heard a pretty lady chant it as she walked in a garden. And I
have heard children sing it far away from here--and long, long ago."

The man's craziness had ebbed a little, and he was staring into the
fire. Alastair, determined that he should not look at the watch, coaxed
him to sing again, and praised his music, and, when he did not respond,
himself sang--for this new mood had brought back his voice--a gypsy lay
of his own land, a catch of the wandering Macadams that trail up and
down the sea-coast. Gentle and soothing it was, with fairy music in it,
which the Good Folk pipe round the sheilings on the July eves. Ben beat
time to it with his hand, and after it sang "Colin on a summer day"
with a chorus that imitated very prettily a tabor
accompaniment. . . . Alastair's glance at the watch told him that
more than an hour had passed, and he realised, too, that the noise of
the Journeyman was dying down.

"Your turn," said the gypsy, who had let his legs sprawl toward the
fire, and seemed like one about to go to sleep.

An unlucky inspiration came to the young man. He broke into the song of
"The Naked Men" and he let his voice ring out so that the thing might
have been heard outside the dwelling. For a moment the gypsy did not
seem to hear; then he frowned, as if an unpleasant memory were aroused;
then suddenly he woke to full consciousness.

"Hell and damnation!" he cried. "What warlock taught you that? Stop the
cursed thing," and he struck the singer in the face.

Then his eye saw the watch, and his ear caught the cessation of the
Journeyman's grinding. His madness flared up again, he forgot all about
the ring, and he leaped upon the prisoner like a wild-cat. He dragged
him, helpless as he was, from the settle and flung him across the
table, sending the remains of supper crashing to the floor. Then he
left him, rushed to the wooden partition, and tore it apart. From the
black pit thus revealed a thin grey vapour seemed to ascend, and the
noise was like the snarling of hounds in kennel.

"John is hungry," he cried. "I have kept you waiting, my darling, but
your meat is ready," and he was back clutching his prisoner's middle.

The despair and apathy of the earlier hours had gone, and Alastair
steeled himself to fight for his life. The gypsy's strength was always
respectable and now his mania made it prepotent. The young man managed
to get his manacled ankles crooked in a leg of the table, but they were
plucked away with a dislocating wrench. His head grated on the floor as
he was dragged towards the pit. And then he saw a chance, for the rope
that bound his wrists caught in a staple fixed in the floor, apparently
to make an anchorage for a chain that had worked an ancient windlass.
The gypsy pulled savagely, but the good hemp held, and he was forced to
drop the body and examine the obstacle. Alastair noted that beyond the
pit was a naked dripping wall of cliff, and that the space between the
edge and the walls of the shed inclined downward, so that anything that
once reached that slope would be easily rolled into the abyss. Death
was very near him and yet he could not despair. He lifted up his voice
in a great shout for help. A thousand echoes rang in the pit, and
following on them came the gypsy's crazy cackle.

"Do not fear, pretty darling. John's arms are soft bedding," and he
dragged him over the lip of stone beyond which the slope ran to the
darkness.

Once again by a miracle his foot caught. This time it was only a snag
of rock, but it had a rough edge to it, and by the mercy of God, the
bonds at his ankles had been already frayed. The gypsy, who had him by
the shoulders and arms, tugged frantically, and the friction of the
stone's edge severed the last strands. Suddenly Alastair found his
ankles free, and with a desperate scramble tried to rise. But his feet
were cramped and numb and he could not find a stand. A tug from the
gypsy brought him to the very edge of the abyss. But the incident had
wakened hope, and once again he made the vault ring with a cry for help.

It was answered. The dim place suddenly blazed with light, and there
was a sound of men's voices. For an instant the gypsy loosed his hold
to stare, and then with a scream resumed his efforts. But in that
instant Alastair's feet had found on the very brink a crack of stone,
which enabled him to brace his legs and resist. The thing was trivial
and he could not hold out long, but the purchase was sufficient to
prevent that last heave from hurling him into the void.

The gypsy seemed suddenly to change his mind. He let the young man's
shoulders drop, so that he fell huddled by the edge, plucked the long
shagreen-handled knife from his belt and struck at his neck. But the
blow never fell. For in the same fraction of time something bright
quivered through the air, and struck deep in his throat. The man
gurgled, then grew limp like a sack, and dropped back on the ground.
Then with a feeble clawing at the air he rolled over the brink, struck
the side twice, and dropped till the noise of his fall was lost in the
moaning of the measureless deep.

Alastair lay sick and trembling, not daring to move, for his heels were
overhanging the void. A hand seized him, a strong hand; and though he
cried out in terror it dragged him up the slope and into the
room. . . . The intense glare stabbed his eyes and he had the same
choking nausea as when he had been felled in the hut. Then he came
suddenly out of the fit of horror and saw himself on the settle, ready
to weep from weariness, but sane again and master of himself.

A dark friendly face was looking down at him.

"You may travel the world's roads for a hundred years," said the
Spainneach, "and never be nearer death. I warned you, Sir Sandy. You
have been overlong in the South."



_XIV_      _Duchess Kitty on the Road_


Five hours' sleep were not enough to rest his body, but they were all
that his unquiet mind would permit. He woke to a sense of great
weariness combined with a feverish impulse to drive himself to the last
limits of his strength. His limbs were desperately stiff, and at his
first attempt to rise he rolled over. A bed had been made for him in
the attic of the farm, and the view from the window showed only the
benty shoulder of a hill. Slowly the doings of the night came back to
him; from the bowels of the earth he seemed to hear the mutterings of
Journeyman John, and he crawled down the trap-ladder in a fret to
escape from the place of horror.

In the kitchen the Spainneach was cooking eggs in a pan, smiling and
crooning to himself as if the morning and the world were good. He put
Alastair in a chair and fed him tenderly, beating up an egg in a cup
with French brandy.

"Have that for your morning's draught, Sir Sandy," he said. "You are
with your friends now, so let your anxieties sleep."

"They cannot," said the young man. "I have lost weeks of precious time.
My grief! but I have been the broken reed to lean on! And the Prince is
in this very shire."

"To-night he will lie in Derby. Lord George Murray has led a column in
advance to Congleton and the Duke of Kingston has fled back to
Lichfield. His Grace of Newcastle has sent offers to the Prince. All
goes well, heart's darling. Your friends have given Cumberland the slip
and are on the straight road to London."

The news stirred his languid blood.

"But the West," he cried. "What news of the West--of Barrymore and Sir
Watkin and Beaufort? There is the rub." And with the speaking of the
words the whole story of the past weeks unrolled itself clear and he
dropped his head into his hands and groaned. Then he staggered to his
feet.

"There is a man reaches Brightwell this day. He must be seized--him and
his papers." Swiftly he told the story of Kyd. "Let me lay hands on him
and I will extort the truth though I have to roast him naked, and that
truth the Prince must have before a man of us sleep. It is the magic
key that will unlock St James's. Have you men to lend me?"

The Spainneach smiled. "Last night they tracked you, as few men in
England could, and they were here to overpower the rascaldom that held
the door. Now they are scattered, but I have a call to pipe them back
like curlews. The Spoonbills are at your back, Sir Sandy."

"Then for God's sake let us be going," Alastair cried. "Have you a
horse for me, for my legs are like broomshanks?"

"Two are saddled and waiting outbye. But first I have a little errand
to fulfil, which the Master charged on me."

From a shed he brought armfuls of hay and straw and piled them in a
corner where the joists of the roof came low and the thatch could be
reached by a man's hand. Into the dry mass he flung a smouldering sod
from the fire. As Alastair, stiffly feeling his stirrups, passed
between the dry-stone gateposts, he heard a roaring behind him, and,
turning, saw flames licking the roof.

"Presently Journeyman John will lie bare to the heavens," said the
Spainneach, "and the wayfaring man, though a fool, will understand.
Brightwell is your goal, Sir Sandy? 'Tis fifteen moorland miles."

"First let us go to the Sleeping Deer," was the answer. "I have a beard
weeks old, and my costume is not my own. Please God, this day I am
going into good society and have a high duty to perform, so I would be
decently attired."

The Spainneach laughed. "Still your old self. You were always for the
thing done in order. But for this Kyd of yours--he comes to Brightwell
to-day, and may depart again, before you take order with him. It is
desirable that he be detained?"

"By God, he shall never go," cried Alastair.

"The Spoonbills do not fight, but they can make a hedge about a man,
and they can bring us news of him."

So at a grey cottage in the winding of a glen the Spainneach turned
aside, telling Alastair that he would overtake him, and when he caught
him up his face was content. "Mr Kyd will not enter Brightwell unknown
to us," he said, "and he will assuredly not leave it."

The day had been bright in the morning, but ere they descended from the
high moors to the wider valleys the wind had veered to the north, and a
cold mist had blown up, which seemed a precursor of storm. Rain fell
heavily and then cleared, leaving a windy sky patched with blue and
ruffled with sleet blasts. The tonic weather did much to refresh
Alastair's body, and to add fuel, if that were possible, to the fire in
his brain. He knew that he was living and moving solely on the passion
in his spirit, for his limbs were fit only for blankets and sleep. When
his horse stumbled or leaned on the bit he realised that the strength
had gone out of his arms. But his mind amazed him by its ardour of
resolution, as if all the anxieties of the past week had been fused
into one white-hot fury. . . . So far the Prince had not failed, and
these forced marches which would place him between Cumberland and the
capital were surely proof of undivided counsels. Perhaps he had news of
the West after all. There was his own letter to Lochiel--but in that he
had promised proofs at Derby, and this day the Prince would be in Derby
and would not find him.

"You have seen His Highness?" he asked the Spainneach.

"At Manchester, for a brief minute, surrounded by white cockades."

"How did he look?"

"Sad and reflective--like a man who has staked much against odds and
does not greatly hope."

It was the picture he had made in his own mind. But by Heaven he would
change it, and bring a sparkle again to those eyes and the flush of
hope to that noble brow. . . . For weeks no news could have reached
the camp from the West, for Kyd would have passed it to Norreys and
Norreys to one of the Whig Dukes in Nottinghamshire, and if the levies
had marched from Wales the Government had had ample warning to
intercept them. . . . Probably they had not started, for Kyd could
no doubt counterfeit orders from the Prince. But the point was that
they were there--men, armed men, and money--ready and eager for the
field. His thoughts were drawing to a point now, and he realised what
had been the vague fear that so long had tormented him. It was that the
Prince would lose heart--nay, not he, but his Council, and instead of
striking for St James's, fall back to a defensive war inside the
Scottish Border. That way lay destruction, slow or speedy--with England
unconverted and France uncommitted. But the bold road, the true road,
would bring France and England to their side, and strike terror to the
heart of their already perplexed enemy. Tower Hill or St James's! Would
to God he was now by the Prince's side, instead of Lord George with his
slow Atholl drawl, or the Secretary Murray, fussy and spluttering and
chicken-hearted, or the Teagues, whose boldness was that of kerns and
only made the others more cautious. At the thought of his Prince's
haggard face he groaned aloud.

But, please God, it was still in his power to find the remedy, and by
evening the peril might be past. He spurred his horse at the thought,
and, since the beasts were fresh and they were now on the good turf of
the vales, the miles flew fast, and they rode out of sleet showers into
sun. To his surprise he found that his attitude to Kyd had changed. He
loathed the man and longed to crush him, but it was as a vile creeping
thing and not as a personal enemy. But against Sir John Norreys he felt
a furious hatred. The thing was illogical--to hate a tool rather than
the principal, the more as Norreys had done him no personal ill, while
Kyd had connived at his death. But had the two been on the sward before
him with drawn swords he could have left the laird of Grey houses to
the Spainneach and taken the baronet for himself. Why? His heart
inexorably gave the answer. The man was the husband of the russet lady;
to her ears he had lied, and with his lies drawn a moan of pity from
her gentle lips. For Sir John Norreys, Alastair reserved a peculiar
vengeance. Kyd might fall to a file of the Prince's muskets, but
Norreys must die before the cold point of his own steel. And then
. . . ? Claudia would be a free woman--sorrowful, disillusioned,
shamefaced, but still a child with the world before her, a white page
on which love could yet write a happy tale.

They skirted the little hill on which Alastair had stood with
Midwinter, and came to the high road and the door of the Sleeping Deer.
There was now no need of back stairs, and Alastair, giving up his horse
to an ostler, boldly entered the hall and made for the landlord's
sanctum. But an elegant travelling trunk caught his eye, its leather
bearing the blazon of a crowned heart, and by the fire a lackey in a
red-and-blue livery was warming himself. A glance through the open door
of the stable-yard revealed more red and blue, and a fine coach which
three stable-boys were washing. The landlord was not in his room, but
in the kitchen, superintending the slicing of hams, the plucking of
pullets and the spicing of great tankards of ale. At the sight of
Alastair he started, called another to take his place at the table and
beckoned him out-of-doors.

"I'm joyful to see ye again, for I feared ye had come by foul play.
That Scotch serving-man was here seeking ye more than once,
and"--lowering his voice--"word came from the Spoonbills, and you not
here to answer, and me not knowing where in hell or Derbyshire ye had
got to. Ye've happened on a rare to-do at the Sleeping Deer. Her right
honourable Grace, the Duchess of Queensberry, has come here to lie the
night, before journeying down into the West country. She has been at
Chatsworth, but the gentles is all a-fleeing south now, for fear of the
wild Highlandmen. Duke William himself escorted her here, and that
pretty lad, his eldest son, the Lord Hartington, and dinner is ordered
for three, and my wife's like to fire the roof with perplexity. Ye'll
be for your old room, doubtless. It's been kept tidy against your
return, and I'll see that a bite of dinner is sent up to ye, when Her
Grace is served."

The Spainneach had disappeared, so Alastair mounted to his attic and
set about the long process of his toilet. His cramped fingers made a
slow business of shaving, but at last his chin and cheeks were smooth,
and the mirror showed a face he recognised, albeit a face hollow in the
cheeks and dark about the eyes. As his dressing proceeded his
self-respect stole back; the fresh-starched shirt, the well-ironed
cravat, were an assurance that he had returned from savagery. By the
time he had finished he felt his bodily health improved, and knew the
rudiments of an appetite. The meal and the glass of brandy which the
landlord brought him assisted his transformation, and he seemed to
breathe again without a burden on his chest. He had bidden the landlord
look out for the Spainneach, and meantime he had an errand to do on his
own account; for it occurred to him that the arrival of the Duchess
Kitty was the solution of one perplexity.

He walked through the store-closet to the landing above the staircase.
At the half-opened door of the Brown Room stood a footman in the
Queensberry colours, one who had been with his mistress at Cornbury and
recognised Alastair. He bowed and let him pass; indeed he would have
pushed the door wide for him had not the young man halted on the
threshold. There were voices inside the room, and one of them had a
familiar sound.

The sight which greeted his eyes made him shut the door firmly behind
him. Duchess Kitty, still wearing the cloak of grey fur and the velvet
mittens which had kept her warm in the coach, sat in the chair which
Claudia had once sat in, one little foot on the hearth-stone, the other
tapping impatiently on the hearth-rug. On a table lay the remains of a
meal, and beside it, balancing himself with one large hand among the
platters, stood Mr Samuel Johnson. It was not the Mr Johnson to whom he
had bade farewell three weeks ago, but rather the distraught usher who
had made the midnight raid on Cornbury. His dress was the extreme of
shabbiness, his hair was in disorder, his rusty small clothes and
coarse stockings were splashed with mud; and he seemed to be famished,
too, for his cheeks were hollow, and for all his distress, he could not
keep his eyes from straying towards the table.

"I beseech your Grace to remember your common womanhood," he was saying
when Alastair's entrance diverted the Duchess's attention.

She recognised him, and a look which was almost alarm crossed her face.

"Here enters the first of the conquerors," she cried, and swept him a
curtsey. "What is the latest news from the seat of war? My woman tells
me that the Prince is already in Bedfordshire and that London is ablaze
and King George fled to Holland. Your news, Captain Maclean?"

"I have none, madam. I have been no nearer the Prince's camp than I am
at this moment."

Her eyes opened wide. "Faith, you have dallied long in the South. Have
you been sick, or is Beaufort's conscience a tender plant? Or did you
return to Cornbury?" Her face had grown stern.

"I left Cornbury on the day you remember, and I have not since seen my
lord, your brother."

"That is well," she said, with an air of relief. "I ask no further
questions lest they embarrass you. But you are come opportunely, for
you can give me counsel. This gentleman," and she turned to Johnson,
"has forced his company upon me, and, when you arrived, had embarked
upon a monstrous tale. He bespeaks my pity, so I have composed myself
to listen."

"The gentleman and I are acquainted, and I can vouch for his honesty.
Nay, madam, I have a fancy that his errand is also mine."

She looked curiously from one to the other, as Johnson, rolling his
head like a marionette, seized Alastair's hand. "It is the mercy of
God, sir, that you have returned," the tutor cried. "I have missed you
sorely, for that house of Brightwell is no better than a prison. Its
master is aged and bedridden and demented, and it is governed by two
malevolent spinsters. Brightwell! Bridewell is its true name. I myself
have eaten little and slept bare, but that matters nothing. It is my
poor lady I grieve for. 'Tis true, she has her husband, but he is
little at home, and is much engrossed with affairs. Soon, too, he will
ride south with his Prince, and Miss Claudia cannot travel with him nor
can she be left behind in that ill-omened den. She must have a woman to
befriend her in these rough days, and conduct her to Chastlecote or
Weston, but she has few female friends of her rank and I knew not where
to turn. But to-day, walking on the high road, I saw an equipage and
learned that it was Her Grace travelling south, and that she would lie
at this inn. So I ran hither like a Covent-garden porter, and have been
admitted to her presence, though my appearance is not so polite as I
could have desired." He bowed to the Duchess, and in his clumsiness
swept her travelling-mask from the table to the floor.

She looked at him for a little without speaking, and then fixed her
eyes on Alastair, those large childlike eyes which were rarely without
a spark of impish humour.

"Your friend," she said, "has already opened his tale to me, but his
manner of telling it is not of the clearest. Since you say that his
errand may be yours, I pray you expound it. But be seated, gentlemen
both. I have already a crick in my neck from looking up to such
enormities."

Mr Johnson, as if glad of the permission, dropped into a chair, but
Alastair remained standing. His legs no longer felt crazy, but they
were amazingly stiff, and once in a chair he distrusted his ability to
rise. He stood at the opposite side of the hearth to the Duchess,
looking down on the elfin figure, as pretty as porcelain in the glow of
firelight.

"I do not ask your politics," he said, "which I take to be your
husband's. But you are an honourable lady, by the consent of all, and,
I can add of my own knowledge, a kind one. To you a traitor must be
doubly repulsive."

Her answer was what Claudia Norreys's had been in that very room.

"You judge rightly, sir. If I thought I could betray a friend or a
cause I should hang myself forthwith to avert the calamity."

Alastair bowed. "Mr Johnson has told you of this girl, my lady Norreys.
She is own sister to you, tender and brave and infinitely faithful. Her
husband is otherwise. Her husband is a black traitor, but she does not
know it."

Mr Johnson cried out. "I had thought better of him, sir. Have you got
new evidence?"

"I have full evidence. News of desperate import is sent to him here by
another in the South, that other being one of the foremost agents of
our Cause. That news should go forthwith to the Prince's camp. It goes
forthwith to the enemy's."

"For what reward?" the Duchess asked.

"For that reward which is usual to traitors in times of civil strife.
They induce honest but weak-kneed souls to take a bold step, and then
betray them to the Government, receiving a share of the fines and
penalties that ensue. Great fortunes have been built that way."

"But if the rebellion wins?"

"Then they are lost, unless indeed they are skilful enough to make
provision with both sides and to bury whichever of the two villainies
is unprofitable."

"He is a young man," she said. "He shows a shocking precocity in guile.
And the poor child his wife dreams nothing of this?"

"Ah, madam," cried Johnson. "She is the very soul and flower of
loyalty. If she suspected but a tithe of it, her heart would break."

"His precocity is remarkable," said Alastair, "but he is not the
principal in the business. The principal is that other I have mentioned
who is in the very centre of the Prince's counsels."

She put her hands to her ears. "Do not tell me," she cried. "I will be
burdened with no secrets that do not concern me. I take it that this
other has not a wife whom you would have me befriend."

"Nevertheless I fear that I must outrage your ears, madam. This other
is known to you--closely allied with you."

Her eyes were suddenly bright with anxiety.

"His name is Mr Nicholas Kyd."

Her face showed relief; also incredulity.

"You are certain? You have proof?"

"I have long been certain. Before night I will have full proof."

She fell into a muse. "Kyd--the bluff honest _bon enfant_! The man of
the sad old songs and ready pathos, who almost makes a Jacobite of
me--Kyd to play the rogue! Faith, His Grace had better look into his
accounts. What do you want of me, Captain Maclean?"

"Two things, madam. My purpose is to do justice on rogues, but justice
is a cruel thing, and I would spare the lady. I want you to carry her
southward with you, and leave her at Chastlecote or Weston, which you
please, or carry her to Amesbury. She shall never know her husband's
infamy--only that he has gone to the Prince, and when he does not
return will think him honourably dead."

The Duchess nodded. "And the other?"

"I beg your presence when Mr Kyd is confounded. He is on his way to
Brightwell and this night will sleep there. His errand in the West is
now done, and to-morrow, as I read it, he descends into Nottinghamshire
to the Government headquarters to receive his reward. Therefore he will
have papers with him, and in those papers I look for my proof. If they
fail, I have other sources."

"And if he is found guilty, what punishment?"

Alastair shrugged his shoulders. "That is not for me. Both he and
Norreys go bound to the Prince."

She brooded with her chin on her hand. Then she stood up, laughing.

"I consent. 'Twill be better than a play. But how will you set the
stage?"

"I go to Brightwell presently, and shall force admission. My lady
Norreys will keep her chamber, while in another part of the house we
deal with grimmer business. I nominate you of our court of justice.
See, we will fix an hour. Order your coach for six, and you will be at
Brightwell by seven. By that time the house will be ours, and we shall
be waiting to receive you. You will bring Mr Johnson with you, and
after that you can comfort the lady."

She nodded. "I will come masked," said she, "and I do swear that I will
not fail you or betray you--by the graves of Durrisdeer I swear it, the
ancient Douglas oath. Have you men enough? I can lend you two stout
fellows."

"Your Grace has forgotten that you are a Whig," said Alastair, laughing.

"I have forgotten all save that I am trysted to a merry evening," she
cried.

* * * * * *

When Alastair returned to his attic he found the Spainneach.

"Your Kyd is nearing port," he said. "I have word that he slept at
Blakeley and dined early at Little Laning. In two hours or less he will
be at Brightwell."

"And the Spoonbills?"

"Await us there. Haste you, Sir Sandy, if you would arrive before your
guest."



_XV_      _Bids Farewell to a Scots Laird_


The night was mild and dark, and the high road which the two men
followed was defined only by the faint glimmer of the rain-pools that
lay in every rut. The smell of wet earth was in their nostrils, and the
noise of brimming streams in their ears, and to Alastair, with a sword
at his side again, the world was transformed. All might yet be saved
for the Cause, and in twelve hours he should see the Prince; the
thought comforted him, but it was not the main tenant of his mind. For
a woman's face had lodged there like an obsession in sleep; he saw
Claudia's eyes change from laughter to tragedy and back again to
laughter, he heard her tongue stumble musically among greetings, he
fancied he saw--nay, it was beyond doubt--her face some day light up
for him, as a girl's lights up for her lover. . . . Across the
pleasant dream passed the shadow of a high coat-collar and a long sharp
nose. He shivered, remembering the ugly business before him.

"Where are the Spoonbills?" he asked.

"By now they will be close around Brightwell, ready to run to my
whistle."

"Are they armed?"

"With staves only. We are men of peace."

"Suppose Norreys has a troop of Kingston's Horse for garrison. Or even
that he and Kyd and a servant or two have pistols. We are too evenly
matched to administer justice in comfort."

"Then we must use our wits," was the answer. "But a file or two of your
Highland muskets would not be unwelcome."

The wish was fulfilled even as it was uttered. As they swung round a
corner of road, half a mile from Brightwell gates, they had to rein in
their horses hard to avoid a collision with a body of mounted men.
These were halted in a cluster, while by the light of a lantern their
leader made shift to examine a scrap of paper. The sudden irruption set
all the beasts plunging, and the lantern went out in the confusion, but
not before Alastair had caught sight of him who had held it.

"God's mercy!" he cried. "Charles Hay! Is it Tinnis himself?"

"You have my name," a voice answered, "and a tongue I have heard
before."

Alastair laughed happily. "Indeed you have heard it before, Mr Charlie.
In quarters and on parade, and at many a merry supper in the Rue
Margot. Your superior officer has a claim upon you."

The lantern, being now relit, revealed a tall young man with twenty
troopers at his back, most of them large raw lads who were not long
from the plough tail. The leader's face was flushed with pleasure.
"Where in God's name have you been lurking, my dear sir?" he cried. "I
have looked for you at every bivouac, for I longed to clap eyes again
on a soldier of Lee's, after so much undisciplined rabble."

"The story will keep, Charles, and meantime I claim a service. You are
on patrol?"

"A patrol of Elcho's ordered to feel our way down this valley and
report at Derby town by breakfast. 'Tis a cursed difficult affair
riding these hills when there is no moon."

"You have time and to spare before morn. Turn aside with me here for a
matter of two hours. You shall have a good supper to cheer you, and
will do your Prince a distinguished service. I pledge my word for it."

"Lead on," said Mr Hay. "I am back in Lee's again, and take my orders
from Captain Maclean."

He cried to his men, and the troop wheeled behind him, where he rode
with Alastair and the Spainneach. "Now tell me the ploy," he said. "It
should be a high matter to keep you away from Derby this night, where
they say the fountains are to run claret."

"We go to do justice on a traitor," said Alastair, and told him the
main lines of the story. Mr Hay whistled long and loud.

"You want us to escort the gentleman to Beelzebub's bosom," he asked.

"I want you to escort him to the Prince."

"Not the slightest use, I do assure you. His Highness has a singular
passion for gentry of that persuasion. Yesterday Lord George's force
brought in a black-hearted miscreant, by the name of Weir, caught
red-handed no less, and a fellow we had been longing for months to get
our irons on. Instead of a tow or a bullet he gets a hand-shake from
His Highness, and is bowed out of the camp with 'Erring brother, go and
sin no more.' Too much damned magnanimity, say I, and it's not like
we'll get much of it back from Cumberland. Take my advice, and hang him
from the nearest oak, and then apologise to His Highness for being in
too much of a loyal hurry."

The gates of Brightwell to Alastair's surprise stood open, and in the
faint light from a shuttered window of the lodge it seemed as if there
had been much traffic.

"Where are your Spoonbills?" he asked the Spainneach.

"I do not know. In furze bush and broom bush and hazel thicket. But
when I whistle, in ten seconds they will be at the door of Brightwell."

The troopers were left in the dark of the paved court, with certain
instructions. Accompanied by the Spainneach, Mr Hay and Mr Hay's troop
sergeant, Alastair rode forward to the great door, and pulled the
massive bell-rope. A tinkle sounded inside at an immense distance, and
almost at the same moment the door was opened. There was a light within
which revealed the ancient butler.

"We have business with Sir John Norreys."

"Sir John awaits you," said the man. "But are there not others with
you, sir?"

So the conspirators had summoned their friends, doubtless a troop of
Kingston's Horse from down the water. A thought struck him.

"We are also appointed to meet a Scotch gentleman, Mr Kyd," he said.

"Mr Kyd arrived some minutes ago," was the answer, "and is now
repairing his toilet after his journey. Will you be pleased to enter?"

Alastair spoke in French to Mr Hay, who gave an order to his troop
sergeant, who took the horses and fell back; and the three men passed
through the outer portals into the gaunt gloomy hall, in which Alastair
had shivered on his first visit. Tonight there was a change. A huge
fire of logs roared up the chimney, and from a door ajar came a glimpse
of firelight in another room, and the corner of a laden table. Miserly
Brightwell was holding revel that night.

Hay flung himself on a settle and toasted his boots.

"Comfort," he cried, "after bleak and miry moors, and I have a glimpse
of the supper you promised me. Sim Linton will hold the fort against
any yokels on cart-horses that try to interrupt us. But what has become
of your swarthy friend?"

The Spainneach had disappeared, and the two were alone. Kyd has his
papers here, thought Alastair, and it were well to make certain of them
first. Evidence should be collected before the court sat. It would seem
that the staging of the play was in other hands than his, and what had
been proposed as a feast would by an irony of destiny be turned into
mourning. . . . And then he realised with a shock that Claudia was
beneath this roof, an unwitting, unsuspecting dove in a nest of ravens.
. . . But in a little the Duchess Kitty would be with her and she
would be safe in Oxfordshire, and some day he would journey
there. . . .

A figure was standing at the foot of the great staircase, a splendid
figure, with a nobly laced coat and such ruffles as were rarely seen
outside St James's. It wore a sword, but its carriage was not that of a
soldier. It advanced into the circle of the firelight, and, seeing it
was observed, it bowed and smiled graciously. Its face was that of a
young man, with a long sharp nose.

"I bid you welcome, gentlemen," it began, and then its eyes rested on
Alastair. An instant and extreme terror flooded its face. It stopped
abruptly, stumbled a step and then turned and ran.

Alastair was after the man like an arrow, but his feet slipped on the
stone floor, and ere he had recovered himself Norreys had disappeared
in the corridor which led to the back regions of the house. It was in
gloom, but a lamp burned at the far end, and to this Alastair directed
himself. But the place was a _cul-de-sac_, and he had to turn back and
find a side-passage. The first led him into cellars, the second into
the kitchen, where there seemed to be a strange to-do, but no sign of
Norreys. At last he found the way to the back-yard, and rushed through
an open door into a storm of rain. Surely the Spoonbills must have
prevented the man's escape. But the Spoonbills had been nodding on that
side of the house, for it was certain that Norreys had gone. No doubt
he had kept a horse always ready saddled, and the sound of hooves could
be heard growing faint on the turf of the park. Hatless and cloakless,
Sir John had fled to his Whig friends in Nottinghamshire to claim
reward and sanctuary.

Alastair's first impulse was there and then to ride the man down, with
Hay's troopers and the Spoonbills alike on his trail. His hatred of him
had flared up furiously, when the mean face in the firelight had broken
in on his thoughts of Claudia. The fellow must be brought to justice,
or the castle of fancy he had been building would tumble. But it was
clear that Kyd must first be dealt with, and, bitterly unwilling, he
allowed his inclinations to give place to his duty.

Kyd's papers! The thought struck him that Norreys might have carried
them off, and sent him hurrying along the passages to the hall, where
Mr Hay was still basking like a cat in the warmth. There, too, stood
the Spainneach, looking like a panther in his lean dark shadowy grace.

"Mr Kyd is in his chamber, cleansing himself of the stains of travel
and humming merrily. I mistrust the servants, Sir Sandy, so I have
replaced them by our own folk. Where are the said servants, you ask?
Shut up in various corners, very scared and docile. Likewise I have
discovered Mr Kyd's travelling-bag. It is in strange wardenship. Come
and see."

The man, stepping lightly, led the way up a broad shallow staircase, to
a room of which he noiselessly opened the door. The hospitable warmth
downstairs had not penetrated to that cold chamber, for the air of it
was like a tomb. On a table stood a saddle-bag from which the contents
had been spilled, and over these contents hung the two grey women whom
Alastair had seen on his earlier visit. They caressed the papers as if
they were misers fumbling banknotes, one lean and hawk-beaked, the
other of a dropsical fatness.

"Sir Robert Leatham--fifty men and five hundred pounds--good pickings
in that, sister. That makes the roll of Hereford complete. The fines
will not be less than half a million pounds, and at two pounds per
centum that is a sum of ten thousand--half to cousin John and half to
him we know of. . . ."

The other was fingering the rings on a tally-stick.

"He favours you, Caroline, and between you there will be a rare
fortune. Cousin Johnnie has promised me Brightwell, when our father
leaves us, and I look to you to assist the conveyance. That is my
price, remember. If you play me false, I will scratch your eyes out and
curse him till he rots. Ay, and I will tell on him to that puling miss
in the Green Chamber. . . . Does Johnnie sup to-night?"

"Ay, and departs early, for he is bound for the Duke of Richmond, but
he we know of stays till the Duke comes hither. He's the great man,
sister, and Johnnie but a boy. A clever dutiful boy, to be sure, with
an old head on his young shoulders. I'll wager that when they both come
to die there will be little difference between the fortunes of Sir John
Norreys of Weston and Sir Robert Grosvenor of Eaton. The pity of it
that he has set his heart on that baby-faced wench."

"She brought him a fine estate, Caroline."

"Pish! He thinks less of the good acres than her pink cheeks. I could
scratch them till the bones were bare. . . . Read the Shropshire
roll again, sister. How deep is Henry Talbot?"

The two witches, obscene, malevolent, furtive, bent over the papers as
over a bubbling cauldron. Alastair stepped forward, choking down a
strong disgust.

"I must beg your permission to remove these papers, mesdames. They are
required for the conference to which Mr Kyd will presently descend."

The women huddled together, stretching each an arm over the papers.

"Mr Kyd gave them into our charge," they said in one voice.

"He releases you from that charge," said Alastair. "Permit me, madam,"
and he laid a hand on the saddle-bag and began to re-fill it.

The women would have resisted had not the Spainneach stepped behind
them and murmured something into the lean one's ear. Whatever it was,
it caused her to draw back her protecting arm and bid her sister do
likewise. Alastair bundled the papers into the bag, and left the room
followed by two pairs of wolfish eyes. The Spainneach locked the door,
and left the key on the outside. "Best keep these wild cats fast in
their cave," he observed. "There might have been a tussle over that
treasure-trove, had I not remembered something I had heard of those
grey ones long ago. Now I go to find the servant Edom."

"When Kyd leaves his room see that the hall is empty. I will await him
in the dining-room. When I ring, do you and Hay enter and join us. Make
Edom wait at the meal with the servants you have provided."

"It is a noble meal which is now cooking," said the Spainneach. "Even
the miserly will spend themselves on a high occasion. It is the habit
of Madame Norreys to sup in her room, and that room is at the far end
of the house from us. She will not be disturbed if we grow merry."

Alastair sat himself by the fire in the great vaulted dining-room and
tore open the saddle-bag. He ran hastily through the papers, for he was
looking for what he knew to be there, and it did not take him long to
discard the irrelevant. Once or twice, as he found what he hoped and
yet feared to find, an exclamation was wrung from him. He selected
several documents and placed them in his breast, and re-read others
with set lips and a knotted forehead. Then he looked into the fire and
mused. . . .

Through the open door came the sound of a step on the paved floor of
the hall, a heavy, assured, leisurely step. The young man kicked the
saddle-bag under the table and stood erect by the hearth with an odd
smile on his face. Grimness had left it, and a wry courtesy remained.

The laird of Greyhouses was a gallant sight. Gone were the splashed
boots and muddy breeches, and all that might recall the wintry roads.
He was dressed as on that night at Cornbury when he had kept Sir
Christopher Lacy company--in flowered waistcoat, and plum-coloured
coat, and canary stockings, and buckled shoes that shone like
well-water. He was humming a little tune as he entered, his eye bright
and content, his heavy figure tautened and refined by hard travelling,
his shapely face rosy as a winter's eve. It was the entrance of a great
man to a company where he expects to be acclaimed, for there was
self-consciousness in the primness of his mouth. He lifted his genial
eyes and saw Alastair.

The man was a superb actor, for though Alastair was watching him like a
hawk he could see no start of surprise, no flicker of disappointment or
fear.

"Captain Maclean, upon my soul!" he cried. "And who would have expected
it? Man, I did not know you were acquaint here. But 'tis a joyful
meeting, my dear sir, and I'm _felix opportunitate coenae_ the day." He
held out a cordial hand, which the young man left unnoticed.

"I am happy to repay hospitality," he said. "You welcomed me some weeks
back at a wayside inn, and it is my turn now to provide the
entertainment. Let us sit down to supper, Mr Kyd. There are other
guests," and he stretched a hand to the bell-rope.

"I confess I was expecting a wheen more," said Mr Kyd, and there was
just the faintest quiver of his eyelids.

"Sir John Norreys begged to be excused. He was summoned into
Nottinghamshire somewhat suddenly--so suddenly that I fear he will take
a catarrh, for he has forgotten his hat and cloak. The ladies of the
house are detained in their chamber, and the master, as we know, has
been bed-ridden these many years. But there are others to take their
place." Again he stretched out his hand, but Kyd interrupted him.

"What is the meaning of it?" he asked in a low voice. "What does this
pleasantry betoken, Captain Maclean?"

"It betokens that _Menelaus_ has come to Phaeacia to see his old crony
_Alcinous_. The two will have much to say to each other, but they will
regret that _Achilles_ is not here to make it a three-handed crack."

The mention of _Achilles_ seemed to perturb the other. He narrowed his
eyes, and into them came the shadow of that look which Alastair had
surprised on the evening at the inn. Then he stepped to the table,
filled a glass of claret and drank it off, while Alastair rang the bell.

The Spainneach entered with Hay on his heels. Kyd regarded them with
puzzled eyes, as if striving to recapture a memory.

"I present to you Mr Charles Hay of Tinnis," said Alastair, "who
commands a troop in His Highness's Lowland Horse. The other gentleman
is of the Nameless Clan. Sit you down, sirs."

Kyd obeyed, but his eyes were not on the food and wine, for he was
thinking hard. He had a stout heart and had often faced peril, so he
forced his mind to consider the situation's possibilities, when a
weaker man would have been a-flutter. Would the horsemen he had asked
for from Kingston arrive in time?--that was the main point. Beyond
doubt they would, and meantime he would confuse this Highland
jackanapes, who seemed to have stumbled on some damaging truths. But
the appearance of Alastair, whom he had utterly written off from his
list of obstacles, worried him in spite of all his robust philosophy.
He made pretence to eat, but he only crumbled his bread and toyed with
his meat, though he drank wine thirstily. The servants who moved about
the room, too, perturbed him. There was his own man Edom acting as
butler, but the others were strange folk, outlandishly dressed and with
dark secret faces, and one, a trooper of Hay's, had a belt with pistols
round his middle and that at his shoulder which might be a white
cockade.

Alastair read his thoughts.

"I fear, sir, that your entertainment is not what you hoped, but I have
done my best to provide a recompense. Since his Grace of Kingston could
not send a garrison, I have brought Mr Hay's Scots. Since Sir John
Norreys is summoned elsewhere, I have provided Mr Hay in his stead. And
since the ladies upstairs cannot honour us, I have bidden another lady,
who will shortly arrive."

The news seemed to move Kyd to action. Hope from Kingston's horse was
over, and the only chance lay in carrying matters with a high hand, and
bluffing his opponent who must be largely in the dark. His plans had
been too deep-laid to be discovered by a casual moss-trooper.

"Most considerate, I'm sure," he said. "But let's have an end of these
riddles. I come here to a well-kenned house, expecting to meet an old
friend, and find him mysteriously departed, and you in his place
talking like an oracle. I venture to observe that it's strange conduct
between gentlemen of the same nation. What's the meaning of it, sir?"
He pushed back his chair, and looked squarely at the young man.

"The meaning of it is that Judas has come to judgment."

Kyd laughed, with an excellent semblance of mirth, and indeed he felt
relieved. This was a mere random general charge, for which he could
readily invent a defence. "Oh, sits the wind that airt? It's most
extraordinary the way we of the honest party harbour suspicions. I've
done it myself many's the time. Weel-a-weel, if I've to thole my
assize, so be it. I've a quiet conscience and a good answer to any
charge. But who is to sit in judgment?"

The man's composure was restored. He filled himself a glass of claret,
held it to the light, and savoured its bouquet before he sipped.

As if in answer to his question the door opened to admit two newcomers.
One was a small lady, with a black silk mask from her brow to her lips,
so that no part of her face was visible. A velvet hood covered her
hair, and her dress was hidden from sight by a long travelling-robe of
fur. Behind her shambled a tall man, whose big hands strayed nervously
to his dusty cravat and the threadbare lapels of his coat.

"Here is your judge," said Alastair. "Madam, will you sit in the seat
of justice?"

He pulled forward a high-backed Restoration chair, and placed before it
a footstool. Solemnly like a cardinal in conclave the little lady
seated herself.

"Who is the prisoner?" she asked. "And what bill does the Prince's
attorney present against him?"

The servants had moved to the back of the room, and stood in the shadow
like guards at attention. By a strange chance the place seemed to have
borrowed the similitude of a court--Kyd at one end of a table with the
guards behind him, Mr Johnson like a justice's clerk sprawling beside
the lady's chair.

"His name, madam," said Alastair, "is Nicholas Kyd of Greyhouses in the
Merse, the principle doer of his Grace of Queensberry, and likewise a
noted Jacobite and a member of His Highness's Council."

"And the charge?"

"That this Nicholas Kyd has for many months betrayed the secrets of his
master, and while professing to work for the Cause has striven to
defeat it by withholding vital information. Further, that the same
Nicholas Kyd has sought for his own gain to bring about the ruin of
divers honest gentlemen, by inducing them to pledge their support to
His Highness and then handing such pledges to King George's Government."

"Heard you ever such havers?" said Kyd boisterously. This was what he
had hoped for, a wild general accusation, the same he had heard brought
against Balhaldy and Traquair and a dozen others, but never
substantiated. "You'll have a difficulty in proving your case, Mr
Attorney."

Then Alastair told his tale from that hour when in the ale-house he met
Kyd. He told of Kyd's advice to go by Flambury and his troubles there,
of the message given him in error, of Edom and his mission, of Sir John
Norreys and his suspected doings, of his own kidnapping and
imprisonment and the confession of Ben the Gypsy in the moorland farm.

"Your proofs, sir," said the judge.

"They are here," he replied, and drew from his breast a sheaf of
papers. "There, madam, is the full account of the Duke of Beaufort's
purpose in Wales, written out and inscribed to the Duke of Kingston,
for transmission to Mr Pelham. There you have another document
narrating conversations with the trusting Jacobites of the Marches.
There you have a letter from Beaufort to his Prince, which would appear
from its superscription to be directed afresh to the Duke of
Cumberland."

The lady looked at the papers shown her, knitted her brows and returned
them. She glanced at Kyd, whose face was set in a mask which he strove
to make impassive.

"Proceed with your second and graver charge, sir," she said.

Alastair told of his conversation with General Oglethorpe and of Kyd's
visit to the General's room at midnight. He told of the two hags
upstairs who were in partnership. "And for proof," he cried, "here are
the rolls of three counties taken from the man's saddle-bags, giving a
list of the gentlemen who are liable to fines for their political
action, and noting the shares which will come to each of the
conspirators. Do you require further evidence, madam?"

The room had grown very still, and no one of the company stirred, till
Kyd brought his fist down on the table. His face had whitened.

"What says the prisoner?" the lady asked.

"Lies, madam, devilish lies--and these papers a common forgery. Some
enemy--and God knows I have many--has put them in my baggage."

"You are acquainted with the handwriting, madam?" Alastair asked.

She studied the papers again. "I have seen it a thousand times. It is a
well-formed and capable style, clerkly and yet gentlemanlike. Nay,
there can be no doubt. His hand wrote these lists and superscriptions."

Kyd's face from pallor flushed scarlet. "God's curse, but am I to have
my fame ruined by a play-acting wench! What daftness is this? What
knows this hussy of my hand of write?"

"Do you deny the authorship, sir?" Alastair asked.

The man had lost his temper. "I deny and affirm nothing before a court
that has no sort of competence. I will answer to the Prince, when he
calls for an answer, and I can promise a certain gentleman his kail
through the reek on that day."

"I should be happy to be proved in error. But if the papers should
happen to be genuine you will admit, sir, that they bear an ugly
complexion."

"I'll admit nothing except that you're a bonny friend to lippen so
readily to a clumsy fabrication. Ay, and you've the damned insolence to
bring in a baggage from the roads to testify to my hand of write.
You'll have to answer to me for that, my man."

There was a low laugh from the mask. He had not recognised her, partly
because of his discomposure and fear and partly because he had never
dreamed of her presence in that countryside. When, therefore, she
plucked the silk from her face and looked sternly down on him, he
seemed suddenly to collapse like a pricked bladder. His stiff jaw
dropped, his eyes stared, he made as if to speak and only stammered.

"Your face condemns you, sir," she said gravely. "I have seen your
writing too often to mistake it, and I have lived long enough in the
world to recognise the sudden confusion of crime in a man's eyes. I
condemn you, sir, as guilty on both charges, and fouler and shamefuller
were never proven."

Kyd's defence was broken; but there was a resolute impudence in the man
which made him still show fight. He looked obstinately at the others,
and attempted a laugh; then at the Duchess, with an effrontery as of a
fellow-conspirator.

"It seems we're both in an ugly place," he said. "You ken my secret,
madam, which I had meant to impart to you when an occasion offered.
Here's the two of us honest folks at the mercy of the wild Jacobites
and wishing sore that the Duke of Kingston would make better speed up
the water."

"That is not my wish," she said, with stony eyes.

It was those eyes which finally unnerved him.

"But, madam," he cried, "your Grace--you are of the Government party,
the party I have served--I have letters from Mr Pelham . . . you
winna suffer the rebels to take vengeance on me for loyalty to King
George."

"I am a Whig," said she, "and will not condemn you for political
conduct, base though I must judge it. The Prince's Attorney must hale
you to another court. You will take him to your master--" this to
Alastair--"and leave him to that tribunal."

"With your assent, madam, I do not ask for judgment on the first
charge, and I do not propose that he should go to the Prince. The
penalty for his treason is death, and I am unwilling to saddle His
Highness before he has won his throne with the duty of putting an end
to a rascal."

She nodded. "I think you are wise, sir. But the second charge is the
more heinous, for it offends not against the law of men's honour, but
the law of human kindness and the law of God. There I find him the
chief of sinners. What penalty do you ask for?"

"I ask that your Grace pronounce sentence of perpetual exile."

"But where--and how?"

"It matters not, so long as it is forth of Britain."

"But you cannot be eternally watching the ports."

"Nay, but he will not come back. There is a brotherhood which has
already aided me--your Grace knows nothing of them, but they know
everything of your Grace. It is the brotherhood of Old England, and is
sure as the judgment of God. To that charge we will commit him. They
will see him forth of England, and they will make certain that he does
not return."

Kyd's face had lightened, as if he saw a prospect of avoiding the full
rigours of the sentence. The Duchess marked it and frowned, but he
misread her mood, which he thought one of displeasure at Alastair's
plan. He adopted an air of humble candour.

"Hear me, your Grace," he implored. "It's a queer story mine, but a
juster than you think. I'm not claiming to be a perfect character, and
I'm not denying that I take a canny bit profit when I find it, like an
eident body. The honest truth is that I don't care a plack for politics
one side or the other, and it's nothing to me which king sits on the
throne. My job's to be a trusty servant of His Grace, and no man can
say that I'm not zealous in that cause. Ay, and there's another cause
I'm sworn to, and that's Scotland. I'm like auld Lockhart o'
Carnwath--my heart can hold just the one land at a time. I call God
Almighty to witness that I never did ill to a kindly Scot, and if I've
laboured to put a spoke in the Chevalier's coach-wheels, it's because
him and his wild caterans are like to play hell with my puir auld
country. Show me what is best for Scotland, and Nicholas Kyd will spend
his last bodle and shed his last drop of blood to compass it."

There was an odd earnestness, even a note of honesty, in the man's
appeal, but it found no acceptance. The lady shivered.

"If you can get him abroad, sir," she addressed Alastair, and her voice
was hard as granite, "I think I can promise you that he will not
return. My arm is a weak woman's, but it strikes far. His services will
be soon forgotten by Mr Pelham, but Kitty of Queensberry does not
forget his offences. Though I live for fifty years more, I will make it
my constant business to keep the rogue in exile."

The man seemed to meditate. Doubtless he reflected that even the malice
of a great lady could not keep him for ever out of the country. She
might die, or her husband lose his power, and politics would be
politics to a Whig Government. One of those who looked on divined his
thoughts, for a soft voice spoke.

"I do not think that Greyhouses will ever again be a pleasant
habitation for the gentleman. Has he forgotten the case of the laird of
Champertoun?"

Kyd started violently.

"Or the goodman of Heriotside?" The voice was gentle and soothing, but
it seemed to wake acute terror in one hearer.

"Men die and their memories, but when all of us are dust the
Bog-blitters will still cry on Lammermuir. I think that Mr Kyd has
heard them before at Greyhouses. He will not desire to hear them again."

The Spainneach had risen and stood beside Kyd, and from the back of the
room two of the Spoonbills advanced like guardian shadows. The big man
in the rich clothes had shrunk to a shapeless bundle in the chair, his
face grey and his eyes hot and tragic. "Not that," he cried, "don't
banish me from my native land. I'll go anywhere you please in the
bounds o' Scotland--to St Kilda, like Lady Grange, or to the wildest
Hielands, but let me feel that I'm in my own country. I tell you my
heart's buried aneath Scots heather. I'll die if you twine the
Lammermuirs and me. Anything you like, my lady, but let me bide at
home."

He found only cold eyes and silence. Then he seemed to brace himself to
self-command. His face was turned to the Duchess, and he sat up in his
chair, settled his cravat, and with a shaking hand poured himself a
glass of wine. His air was now ingratiating and sentimental, and he
wiped a tear from his eye.

"_Nos patriae fines et dulcia liquimus arva_," he said. "I'll have to
comfort myself with philosophy, for man's life is more howes than
heights. Heigho, but I'll miss Scotland. I'm like the old ballad:

  'Happy the craw
  That biggs i' the Totten Shaw
  And drinks o' the Water of Dye,
  For nae mair may I.'"


The words, the tone, the broken air gave to Alastair a moment of
compunction. But in Mr Johnson they roused another feeling. Half
raising himself from his chair, he shook his fist at the speaker.

"Sir," he cried, "you are worse than a rogue, you are a canting rogue.
You would have driven twenty honest men into unmerited exile by your
infamies and had no pity on them, but you crave pity for yourself when
you are justly banished. I have sympathy with many kinds of rascal, but
none with yours. Your crimes are the greater because you pretend to
sensibility. With you, sir, patriotism is the last refuge of the
scoundrel."

Alastair picked the saddle-bag from below the table, and emptied its
remaining contents in the fire.

"Except what I keep for His Highness's eye, let ashes be the fate of
this treason. There is your baggage, sir. You may want it on your long
journey."

The hand that lifted it was Edom's.

"I'll get the other pockmantie ready, sir," he said to Kyd in the grave
tone of a good servant. "Your horse is no just in the best fettle for
the road, but I ride lichter nor you, and ye can take mine."

"But you do not propose to continue in his service?" Alastair cried in
astonishment. "See, man, you have saved my life, and I will take charge
of your fortunes."

Edom halted at the door. "I thank ye, sir, for your guidwill. But I was
born at Greyhouses, and my faither and his faither afore him served the
family. It's no a sma' thing like poalitics that'll gar a Kyd and a
Lowrie take different roads."



_XVI_      _Bids Farewell to an English Lady_


Duchess Kitty descended from her chair of justice and came to the
fireside, where she let her furs slip from her and stood, a figure of
white porcelain, warming her feet at the blaze.

"There was some word of a lady," she said.

Johnson, too, had risen, and though the man's cheeks were gaunt with
hunger he had no eye for the food on the table. His mind seemed to be
in travail with difficult thoughts.

"The lady, madam," he groaned. "She is in her chamber, unsuspecting.
Her husband should be here also. He may enter at any moment."

"He has fled," said Alastair. "Fled, as I take it, to the Whig Dukes
for his reward. The man is revealed at last, and his wife must disown
him or be tainted by his guilt."

The news seemed to affect Johnson painfully. He cast himself into a
chair, which creaked under his weight, and covered his eyes with his
hands.

"Why in God's name did you suffer it?" he asked fiercely of Alastair.
"I had another plan. . . . I would have brought the dog to
repentance."

"I will yet bring him to justice," said Alastair grimly. "I have a
forewarning of it, and to-morrow or next week or next year he will
stand up before my sword."

The words gave no comfort to Johnson. He rolled his melancholy eyes and
groaned again. "'Twill break her heart," he lamented. "She will know of
his infamy--it cannot be hid from her. . . . Oh, why, why!"

Alastair spoke to the Duchess. "You will tell Lady Norreys that her
husband has gone to the Prince. No more. I will make certain that he
does not return to Weston, though I have to drag him with my own hands
out of Cumberland's closet. . . . Forgive me, madam, if I appear to
command, but this is a tangled matter. Pray take her with you to
Amesbury, and keep her out of Oxfordshire, till I send word that it is
safe. She must not go to Weston or Chastlecote till she has the news of
his death. I will contrive that he die, and 'tis for you to contrive
that she thinks his death a hero's."

The Duchess mused. "You are a singular pair of gentlemen, and wondrous
tender to the child's feelings. I can see you are both in love with
her. Prithee lead me at once to this enchainer of hearts."

The Spainneach's face appeared in the doorway, and his hand beckoned to
Alastair.

"My lady's woman has descended and is distracted by the sight of
strange servants. It seems her mistress desires Sir John's company,
which was promised for this hour, and the maid will not return without
a clear answer."

"Say that he is detained," said Alastair, "and add that the Duchess of
Queensberry begs the lady's permission to wait upon her."

He turned to the two at the fireplace. "Madam, 'tis time for your
mission of charity."

"Repeat me my lesson," she said, standing before him as demure as a
schoolgirl.

"You will inform the lady that Sir John Norreys has been summoned in
great haste to join his Prince, and has left incontinent, trusting to
her loyal heart to condone his seeming heartlessness. Say that he will
find means to keep her informed of his welfare. Then press her to
travel southward with you, pointing out to her that the war moves
southward and she will be travelling the same way as Sir John."

"'Tis a parcel of lies," said the Duchess, "and I am a poor dissembler."

Alastair shrugged his shoulders. "The cause is good and your Grace is a
finished actress, when you please."

"But is it not cruel kindness?" she asked. "Were it not better that she
should know the truth of her husband, that she might grieve the less
when she has news of his end, which I see writ plain in your eyes, sir?"

Johnson broke in. "A thousand times no, madam. If she learns that her
trust has been ill placed, her heart will break. She can bear sorrow
but not shame. Believe me, I have studied that noble lady."

"So be it. Have the goodness, Captain Maclean, to escort me to this
paragon."

Alastair gave her his arm, and, instructed by Johnson--who followed in
the wake--conducted the Duchess up the first flight of the staircase to
a broad gallery from which the main bedrooms opened. At the end, where
were Claudia's rooms, the maid, Mrs Peckover, stood with a lighted
candle to receive them.

But suddenly they halted and stood motionless, listening. A voice was
singing, the voice which had sung "Diana" at the Sleeping Deer. The
door must have been ajar, for the song rose clear in the corridor, sung
low but with such a tension of feeling that every word and bar seemed
to vibrate in the air. The Duchess, clinging to Alastair's arm, stood
rigid as a statue. "O Love," the voice sang--

  "O Love, they wrong thee much
    That say thy sweet is bitter.
  When thy rich fruit is such
    As nothing can be sweeter.
  Fair house of joy and bliss,
  Where truest treasure is,
    I do adore thee."


The voice hung on the lines for an instant in a tremor of passion. Then
it continued to a falling close--

  "I know thee what thou art,
  I serve thee with my heart,
      And fall before thee."


"I think you do well to be tender of her," the Duchess whispered.
"Adieu! I will descend presently and report."

The heavy hand of Johnson clutched his arm before he had reached the
foot of the staircase.

"Did you hear that?" the tutor questioned savagely. "She sings of love
like an angel of God, and her love is betrayed." He forced Alastair
before him, and shut the door of the dining-room behind them. The
candles still burned brightly amid the remains of supper, but the logs
on the hearth had smouldered low.

Johnson was become the strangest of figures, his sallow face flushed,
his eyes rolling like a man in a fit, and a nervousness like palsy
affecting his hands and shoulders. But Alastair saw none of these
things, for his attention was held by something masterful and noble in
the man's face.

"Sit down, Alastair Maclean," he said, "and listen to one who loves you
as a brother. Sir, we are both servants of one lady and that is a bond
stricter than consanguinity. I am poor and diseased and disconsidered,
but I have a duty laid upon me which comes direct from Omnipotence.
Sir, I command you to examine into your heart."

He laid a hand on the young man's arm, a hand that trembled violently.

"What are your intentions toward Sir John Norreys?"

"I mean to find him, and, when found, to fight with him and kill him."

"For what reason?"

"Because he is a traitor to my Prince."

"And yet you did not press for the death of the man Kyd, who was the
principal whereas Sir John was but the tool. Come, sir, be honest with
me; why is the extreme penalty decreed to the less guilty?"

Alastair did not answer at first. Then he said--

"Because Sir John Norreys is the husband of a lady to whom the
knowledge of his true nature would be death."

"That reply is nearer the truth, but still far from complete honesty."

Alastair had a sudden flame of wrath. "Do you accuse me of lying?" he
asked angrily.

Johnson's face did not change. "Sir, all men are liars," he said. "I
strive to make you speak truth to your own soul. The death of Sir John
is intended merely to save the lady from the pain of disgrace? On your
honour, for no other purpose?"

Alastair did not reply. The other sank his harsh voice to a gentler and
kindlier pitch, and the hand on the young man's arm from a menace
became a caress.

"I will answer for you. You love the lady. Nay, I do not blame you, for
all the world must love her. I love her most deeply, but not as you,
for you love with hope, and look some day to make her yours. Therefore
you would slay Sir John, and to yourself you say that 'tis to save her
from shame, but before God, you know that 'tis to rid yourself of a
rival."

The man's eyes were compelling, and his utter honesty was like a fire
that burned all shamefastness from the air. Alastair's silence was
assent.

"Sir, a lover seeks above all things the good of his mistress. If
indeed you love her--and it is honourable that you should--I implore
you to consider further in the matter. We are agreed that it is
necessary to save her from the shame of the knowledge of her husband's
treason, for it is a proud lady who would feel disgrace sharper than
death. If that were all, I would bid you god-speed, for Sir John's
death would serve that purpose, and you and she are fit mates, being
alike young and highly born. After the natural period of mourning was
over, you might fairly look to espouse her. But ah, sir, that is not
all."

He got to his feet in his eagerness and stood above the young man, one
hand splayed on the table, as he had stood that afternoon at the
Sleeping Deer.

"Listen, sir. I have watched that child in her going out and coming in,
in her joys and melancholies, in her every mood of caprice and
earnestness--watched with the quick eye of one who is half lover, half
parent. And I have formed most certain conclusions about that high
nature. She trusts but once and that wholly; she will love but once,
and that with a passion like a consuming fire. If she knew the truth
about Sir John, she would never trust mankind again. On that we are
agreed. But I go further, sir. If she lost him, she would never love
another, but go inconsolable to her grave. It is the way of certain
choice spirits."

Alastair made a gesture of dissent.

"Sir, did you not hear her singing?" Johnson asked. "Answer me, heard
you ever such a joy of surrender in a mortal voice?"

Alastair could not deny it, for the passionate trilling was still in
his ear.

"But your reasoning is flawed," he said. "Granted that my Lady Norreys
has given her love once and for all; yet if Sir John remain alive she
will presently discover his shame, and for the rest of her days be
tormented with honour wounded through affection."

"It need not be," said Johnson, and his voice had sunk to the level of
argument from the heights of appeal. "I have studied both of them
during the past weeks, and this is my conclusion. She has made a false
image of him which she adores, but unless the falsity be proved to the
world by some violent revelation she will not discover it. She is a
happy self-deceiver, and to the end--unless forcibly enlightened--will
take his common clay for gold. As for him--well, he is clay and not
gunpowder. He has been moulded into infamy by a stronger man and by his
ancestral greed--for, judging by the family here, his race is one of
misers. But let him be sufficiently alarmed and shown where his
interest lies, and he will relapse to the paths of decorum. Good he
will never be, little he must always be, but he may also be
respectable. He will not lose his halo in his lady's eyes and they may
live out their time happily, and if God wills some portion of the
mother's quality may descend to the children."

The thought to Alastair was hideously repellent. To whitewash such a
rogue and delude such a lady! Better surely a painful enlightenment
than this deceit. He comforted himself with the reflection that it was
impossible.

"But by this time Sir John Norreys is with his paymaster, and the
mischief is done."

"Not so," said Johnson. "Sir John does not ride to Kingston or to
Richmond but to Cumberland himself, and he lies far in the south. He
may yet be overtaken and dissuaded."

"By whom?"

"By you, sir."

Alastair laughed loud and bitterly.

"Are you mad, sir? I journey at once to the Prince's camp, for I have
news for him that may determine his future conduct. Already I am late
in starting. I must order my horse, and bid farewell to the ladies." He
moved to the door, and cried instructions to the Spainneach, who smoked
a cigarro by the hall fire.

Johnson seized him by the lapels of his coat. "I implore you, sir, by
the mercy of God. Follow Sir John and persuade him, compel him, at the
sword's point, if need be. The happiness of my darling child depends on
it. If you do not go, I must go myself. The Prince's news can wait, for
it will be only a few hours' delay at the most. What does it matter
whether or not he be in London a day earlier, compared to the
well-being of an immortal soul? I beseech you, sir, for the love of
Christ Who redeemed us----"

"Tush, man, you are raving," Alastair broke in, and moved to the
half-open door. At that moment the Duchess's voice sounded on the
stairs.

"Come up, sir," she said. "My lady will receive you before you go, and
she bids you bring the other, the clumsy fellow whose name I know not."

Duchess Kitty met him at the door of Claudia's chamber.

"Oh, my dear, she is the very archangel of angels, and of an innocence
to make one weep. She will come with me to Amesbury. She dotes on her
Sir John and will weary me, I fear, with her rhapsodies, but I am nobly
complaisant and flatter her passion. I fear you stand no chance, sir.
Her heart is wholly in the rogue's keeping. Enter, for she awaits you."

In the dim panelled room lit by many candles and a leaping fire the
figure of the girl sitting up in the great four-poster bed stood out
with a startling brilliance. Madam Claudia was dressed to receive him,
as she had been in the midnight colloquy at Flambury, in a furred
bed-gown and a nightcap of lace and pink satin. But her brown eyes were
no longer pools of dancing light. She held out a hand to Alastair with
a little sigh.

"I rejoice that you are free from your t-troubles, sir," she said.
"'Twas a shameful charge, and I did not credit it, nor truly did Sir
John. And justice, they tell me, has been done to the traitor! Sir John
was deceived like the rest of you, and 'tis a cunning rogue that can
hoodwink Sir John. You are at the end of your mission, sir, and can now
engage in the honest business of war."

"And for yourself, my lady?"

"I, too, take the road," she said. "You have heard of her G-grace's
kindness. I am fortunate to travel in such g-gentle company. So it is
farewell, sir. You ride this night to the Prince, who is at Derby? My
dear Sir John has preceded you there. Oh, would that I could be with
him!" And with a morsel of cambric she dried a rising tear.

"And you, Puffin," she asked, catching sight of Johnson. "Do you travel
south with us?"

"Nay, madam, I go with Captain Maclean to the Prince's camp."

"Bravo!" she cried. "You have declared yourself at last. God prosper
you, my gallant gentlemen. I will be there to cheer when you ride
behind the Prince into London."

Alastair was scarcely conscious of her words. He saw only her wild wet
eyes, compared to which those of the pretty Duchess were like pebbles
to stars. It was the child in her that overwhelmed him, the appealing
child, trusting utterly with no thought but that all the world was
well-disposed to her and her love. He had known many women in his time,
though none had touched his cold fancy, but he had never before seen
woman's face transfigured with so innocent an exaltation. The sadness
in it was only the anxiety of a soul that trembled for the perpetuation
of an unbelievable joy. He was nothing to her, nor was any man except
the one; the virgin garden of her heart was enclosed with impenetrable
defences. The truth moved him not to irritation, but to pity and a
protecting care. He could not mar a thing so rare, and if its
foundations were rotten he would be in league to strengthen them. For
the moment he was not the lover, but the guardian, who would perjure
his soul to keep alive a childish paradise.

He raised her hand and kissed it. "I am your very humble and devoted
servant," he said. And then she did a thing for which he was not
prepared, for with a little cry she put her hands over her eyes and
wept.

He hurried from the room without looking back. He had made a decision
which he found was like a dry patch of ground in the midst of rising
floods, for gathering from every corner of his soul were dark and
unplumbed tides.

* * * * * *

As he mounted, the Spainneach spoke: "He has gone by Milford and the
Ernshawbank. Likely he will sleep an hour or two at the Pegtop. You
might find him there if you haste."

Johnson's horse had also been brought, and its rider had some trouble
in mounting.

"You will delay me, sir, if you insist on keeping me company," said
Alastair.

"I am a strong rider when I am once in the saddle," said the other
humbly. "But why this hurry? You will be in Derby long ere daybreak."

"I do not ride to Derby, but down the vale to overtake a certain
gentleman."

He heard Johnson mutter a fervent "God be thanked" as he turned for a
last look at the house. In an upper floor there was a glow of firelight
and candlelight through the curtains of unshuttered windows. There lay
Claudia, stammering her gentle confidences to Duchess Kitty, but with
her thoughts ranging the hill-roads in the wake of her worthless lover.
And from one of those dark windows two grey beldams were peering into
the night and trembling for the riches that were the price of their
souls.



_XVII_      _Ordeal of Honour_


The night was growing colder, and the moon in her first quarter was
sinking among heavy woolpack clouds. The Spainneach's whisper had been
enough for Alastair, who in his sojourn at the Sleeping Deer had made
himself familiar with the neighbourhood, after the fashion of a
campaigner who may soon have to fight in it. The road led them past the
silent hostelry, and then left the vale and struck over a succession of
low ridges to another, where a parallel stream of the hills broadened
as it neared the lowlands. The men did not spare their horses, and, as
the hooves clattered on the bare ribs of rock which crossed the track
sparks like wildfire flew behind them.

Alastair's mood was as dark as the weather. The sight of Claudia,
babbling of her lover, had for a moment converted him to Johnson's
view. In a fine impulse of quixotry he had ridden from Brightwell, his
purpose vague towards Sir John Norreys but determined in the service of
the lady. If her love was pledged irrevocably to a knave and fool, then
be it his business to keep the said knave from greater folly, and see
that disillusion did not shatter a gentle heart. For a little he felt
the glow of self-conscious worth, and the pleasant melancholy which is
born of approving self-pity.

It did not last long. Visions of Claudia, dim-eyed, stammering, all
russet and snow, returned to ravish his fancy, and the picture of a
certain sharp-nosed gentleman to exacerbate his temper. Before God he
could not surrender such a darling, he would be no party to flinging
such a pearl before swine! His heart grew hot when he thought of Sir
John, the mean visage and hedge-hog soul. To condone his infamy would
be to sin against Heaven--to foster his lady's blind fondness the task
of a pander. Let the truth be told and the devil be shamed, for a
wounded heart was better than a slow decay.

Presently his mind had swung round to a new resolution. He would go
straight to Derby to the Prince, which was his direct soldierly duty.
He knew the road; the next left-hand turning would lead him there
before morning. He was already weeks, months late; he dared not tarry
another hour, for he alone knew the truth about the West, and that
truth might determine the Prince's strategy. True, His Highness was at
Derby now, and the Rubicon had been doubtless crossed, but in so great
a matter no precaution could be omitted. At that very moment Lochiel,
with his letter in his hand, might be looking in vain for the man who
had named Derby as the trysting-place. . . . He would sweep
southward with the Army to conquest, and then in their hour of triumph
would root Sir John from his traitor's kennel. The man must fight on
his challenge, and he had no doubt as to the issue of that fight.

But would he? Would he not disappear overseas, taking with him his wife
under some false story? If she were deceived in one matter, she might
be deceived in others. . . . No, by Heaven, there was no way of it
but the one. The fox must be found before he reached his earth, and
brought to account at a sword's point. Stone dead had no fellow.

The cross-roads lay before them where was the turning to Derby.

"There lies the Prince," said Alastair, his head over his left
shoulder. "My duty is to ride forthwith thither. I could breakfast in
the camp."

Johnson, though lacking a riding-coat, had grown warm with the
exercise, and both he and his mount were blowing.

"You would not falter in your most honourable resolve?" he puffed.

Alastair clapped spurs to his beast. "No," he said, "I am resolved
before all things to find Sir John Norreys. But when I find him I will
kill him."

He heard a gasp which was more than Mr Johnson's chronic shortness of
breath. As he cantered forward the slower and heavier beast of his
companion was forced alongside of him, and a hand clutched his arm.

"I beseech you, sir," said a tragic voice, "I pray you, in God's name,
to turn aside to Derby."

"I will first meet Sir John," was the reply and the hand was shaken off.

"But he will be safe at your hands?"

"That is as God may direct," said Alastair.

His resolution being now fixed, his spirits rose. He let thoughts of
Claudia flush his mind with their sweet radiance. He pictured her as he
had last seen her--the light from the candles making her slim white
neck below the rosy nightcap take on the bloom of a peach, and the
leaping flames of the hearth chequering the shadow of the bed-curtain.
He saw her dim eyes, heard her melting voice, felt the warm vigour of
her body as she cowered beside him in the dark of the Flambury
galleries. Too young for wife, too old for child, but the ripe age for
comrade--and such a comrade, for there was a boy's gallantry in her
eyes and something of a child's confident fearlessness. He did not hear
the groans of Mr Johnson pounding dismally behind him, or the
shuddering cry of owls from the woods. The world was a quiet place to
him where a soft voice was speaking, the thick darkness was all aglow
with happy pictures. The man's soul was enraptured by his dreams. He
found himself suddenly laughing to think how new and strange was this
mood of his. Hitherto he had kept women at arms' length, and set his
heart on policy and war, till he had earned the repute of one to be
trusted and courted, but one already at thirty middle-aged. Lord! but
there had been a melting of icebergs! And like a stab came the thought
of yet another molten iceberg--Sir John--of the sharp nose and the high
coat collar! Alastair cried out like a man in pain.

They rode into Milford half an hour after midnight. There was no light
in any house, and the inn was a black wall. But the door of the yard
was open, and a hostler, ascending to his bed in the hayloft, accepted
a shilling for his news. A man had ridden through Milford that night.
He had not seen him, but he had heard the clatter as he was bedding the
post horses that had come in late from Marlock. How long ago? Not more
than an hour, maybe less, and the fellow checked his memory with a
string of minute proofs.

Alastair swung his horse's head back to the road. "Courage, my friend,"
he cried. "We are gaining on him. We shall overtake him before morning."

Again Johnson caught his arm. "Bethink you, sir," he stammered. "You
ride on an errand of murder."

"Nay," was the answer, "of love."

But the next miles were over roads like ploughlands, and the rain blew
up from the south-west and set the teeth chattering of the cloakless Mr
Johnson. The night was very dark and the road seemed to pass no
villages, for not a light appeared in the wastes of wet ling and fern
and plashing woods. The track could be discerned well enough, for it
was the only possible route through the rugged land, and happily for
the riders there were no crossways. No other traveller met them or was
overtaken--which, thought Alastair, was natural, for with the Prince at
Derby the flight of the timid would be to the south, and not north or
west into the enemy's country.

Long before dawn he was far beyond the countryside of which he had any
knowledge. He had been given Ernshawbank by the Spainneach as the
second point to make for, and had assumed that there, if not before, he
would fall in with Sir John. Yet when he came to a village about
cockcrow, and learned from a sleepy carter that it was Ernshawbank, he
did not find his quarry. But at the inn he had news of him. A man
answering his description had knocked up the landlord two hours before,
drunk a gill of brandy, eaten a crust, and bought for a guinea the said
landlord's cocked grey beaver, new a month ago at Leek Fair. Two hours!
The man was gaining on him! It appeared that he had ridden the path for
lower Dovedale, as if he were making for Staffordshire and Trentside.

The two breakfasted at an ale house below Thorp Cloud, when a grey
December morning was breaking over the leafless vale and the swollen
waters of Dove. Their man had been seen, riding hard, with a face blue
from cold and wet, and his fine clothes pitifully draggled with the
rain. He had crossed the river, and was therefore bound for
Staffordshire, and not Nottinghamshire, as Alastair had at first
guessed. A minute's reflection convinced him of the reason. Sir John
was specially concerned with cutting off the help coming to the Prince
from the West, and therefore went to join those, like the Duke of
Kingston, who were on that flank, rather than the army which lay
between Derby and London. The reflection gave him acute uneasiness.
Nottinghamshire was distant, so there was a chance to overtake the
fugitive on the way. But, as it now was, any hour might see the man in
sanctuary. The next village might hold a patrol of the Duke's. . . .
He cut short the meal, which Mr Johnson had scarcely tasted, and the
two were again on their weary beasts pounding up the steep lanes
towards Ershalton and my lord Shrewsbury's great house.

The mist cleared, a wintry sun shone, and the sky was mottled with
patches of watery blue. Mr Johnson's teeth began to chatter so
violently that Alastair swung round and regarded him.

"You will without doubt catch an ague, sir," he said, and at the next
presentable inn he insisted on his toasting his small-clothes before
the kitchen fire, drinking a jorum of hot rum, and borrowing a coat of
the landlord's till his own was dry. For suddenly the panic of hurry
was gone out of Alastair, and he saw this business as something
predestined and ultimate. Fate was moving the pieces, and her iron
fingers did not fumble. If it was written that he and Sir John should
meet, then stronger powers than he would set the stage. He was amazed
at his own calm.

The rum made his companion drowsy, and as they continued on the road he
ceased to groan, and at the next halting-place did not stare at him
with plaintive hang-dog eyes. As for Alastair he found that his mind
had changed again and that all his resolution was fluid.

His hatred of the pursued was ebbing, indeed had almost vanished, for
with the sense of fatality which was growing upon him he saw the man as
no better than a pawn; a thing as impersonal as sticks and stones. All
the actors of the piece--Kyd, Norreys, the Spoonbills, Edom, the sullen
Johnson, grew in his picture small and stiff like marionettes, and
Claudia alone had the warmth of life. Once more she filled the stage of
his memory, but it was not the russet and pearl of her and her witching
eyes that held him now, but a tragic muse who appealed from the brink
of chasms. She implored his pity on all she loved, on the casket where
she had hid her heart.

With a start he recognised that this casket was no other than Sir John
Norreys.

He might shatter it and rescue the heart, but how would the precious
thing fare in the shattering? Her eyes rose before him with their
infinite surrender. Was Johnson right and was she of the race of women
that give once in life and then utterly and for ever? If so, his errand
was not to succour, but to slay. His sword would not cut the bonds of
youth and innocence, it would pierce their heart.

He forced his mind to reconstruct the three occasions when she had
faced him--not for his delectation, but to satisfy a new-born anxiety.
He saw her at Flambury, a girl afire with zeal and daring, sexless as a
child, and yet always in her sweet stumbling phrases harping on her
dear Sir John. He saw her in the Brown Room at the Sleeping Deer, a
tender muse of memories, but imperious towards dishonour, one whose
slim grace might be brittle but would not bend. Last he saw her set up
in the great bed at Brightwell, one arm round the neck of Duchess
Kitty, the other stretched towards him in that woman's appeal which had
held him from Derby and the path of duty.

There is that in hard riding and hard weather which refines a man's
spirit, purging it of its grosser humours. The passion of the small
hours had gone utterly from Alastair, and instead his soul was filled
with a tempestuous affection, not of a lover but of a kinsman and
protector. The child must at all costs be sheltered from sorrow, and if
she pined for her toy it must be found for her, its cracks mended and
its paint refurbished. His mood was now the same as Johnson's, his
resolution the same. He felt an odd pleasure in this access of
tenderness, but he was conscious, too, that the pleasure was like a
thin drift of flowers over dark mires of longing and sorrow. For his
world had been tumbled down, and all the castles he had built. He had
always been homeless, but now he was a thousandfold more an outlaw, for
the one thing on earth he desired was behind him and not before him,
and he was fleeing from hope.

In the afternoon the rain descended again and the road passed over a
wide heath, which had been blackened by some autumn fire so that the
shores of its leaden pools were like charcoal, and skeleton coverts
shook their charred branches in the wind. The scene was a desolation,
but he viewed it with calm eyes, for a strange peace was creeping into
his soul. He turned in the saddle, and saw six yards behind him Johnson
jogging wearily along, his heavy shoulders bowed and his eyes fixed
dully on his horse's neck. The man must be near the limits of his
strength, he thought. . . . Once again he had one of his sudden
premonitions. Sir John Norreys was close at hand, for he had not yet
stopped for a meal and he had now been on the road for twelve hours.
The conviction grew upon him, and made him urge his tired beast to a
better pace. Somewhere just in front was the meeting-place where the
ordeal was appointed which should decree the fate of two souls. . . .

The drizzle changed into half a gale, and scouring blasts shut out the
landscape. There came a moment's clearing, and lo! before him lay a
bare space in the heath, where another road entered from the west to
join the highway. At their meeting, set in a grove of hornbeams, stood
an inn.

It was a small place, ancient, long and low, and the signboard could
not be read in the dim weather. But beneath it, new-painted, was an
open eye. He checked his horse, and turned to the door, for he knew
with utter certainty that he had reached his destination.

He dropped from the saddle, and since there was no stable-lad in sight,
he tied the reins to a ring in the wall. Then he pushed open the door
and descended a step into the inn kitchen. A man was busy about the
hearth, a grizzled elderly fellow in leathern small-clothes. In front
of the fire a fine coat hung drying on two chairs, and a pair of sodden
boots steamed beside the log basket.

The inn-keeper looked up, and something in the quiet eyes and
weather-worn face awoke in Alastair a recollection. He had not seen the
face before, but he had seen its like.

"You have a guest?" he said.

The man did not answer, and Alastair knew that no word or deed of his
would compel an answer, if the man were unwilling.

"You have the sign," he said. "I, too, am of the Spoonbills. I seek
Master Midwinter."

The inn-keeper straightened himself. "He shall be found," he said.
"What message do I carry?"

"Say that he to whom he promised help on Otmoor now claims it. And
stay, there are two weary cattle outside. Have them fed and stabled."

The man turned to go, but Alastair checked him.

"You have a guest?" he asked.

"He is now upstairs at food," was the answer given readily. "He feeds
in his shirt, for he is all mucked and moiled with the roads."

"I have business with him, I and my friend. Let us be alone till Master
Midwinter comes."

The man stood aside to let Johnson stumble in. Then the door was shut,
and to Alastair's ear there was the turning of a key.

Johnson's great figure seemed broken with weariness. He staggered
across the uneven stone floor, and rolled into a grandfather's chair
which stood to the left of the fire. Then he caught sight of the coat
drying in the glow and recognised it. Into his face, grey with fatigue,
came a sudden panic. "It is his," he cried. "He is here." He lifted his
head and seemed to listen like a stag at pause. Then he flung himself
from the chair, and rushed on Alastair, who was staring abstractedly at
the blaze. "You will not harm him," he cried. "You will not break my
lady's heart. Sooner, sir, I will choke you with my own hands."

His voice was the scream of an animal in pain, his skin was livid, his
eyes were hot coals. Alastair, taken by surprise, was all but swung off
his feet by the fury of the assault. One great arm was round his waist,
one hand was clutching his throat. The two staggered back, upsetting
the chair before the fire; the hand at the throat was shaken off, and
in a second they were at wrestling-grips in the centre of the floor.

Both men were weary, and one was lately recovered of a sickness. This
latter, too, was the lighter, and for a moment Alastair found himself
helpless in a grip which crushed in his sides and stopped his breath.
But Johnson's passion was like the spouting of a volcano and soon died
down. The fiery vigour went out of his clutch, but it remained a
compelling thing, holding the young man a close prisoner.

The noise of the scuffle had alarmed the gentleman above. The stairs
ran up in a steep flight direct from the kitchen, and as Alastair
looked from below his antagonist's elbow, he saw a white face peer
beneath the low roof of the stairway, and a little further down
three-quarters of the length of a sword blade. He was exerting the
power of his younger arms against the dead strength of Johnson, but all
the while his eyes were held by this new apparition. It was something
clad only in shirt and breeches and rough borrowed stockings, but the
face was unmistakable and the haggard eyes.

The apparition descended another step, and now Alastair saw the hand
which grasped the sword. Fear was in the man's face, and then a deeper
terror, for he had recognised one of the combatants. There was
perplexity there, too, for he was puzzled at the sight, and after that
a spasm of hope. He hesitated for a second till he grasped the
situation. Then he shouted something which may have been an
encouragement to Johnson, and leaped the remaining steps on to the
kitchen floor.

Johnson had not seen him, for his head was turned the other way and his
sight and hearing were dimmed by his fury. The man in underclothes
danced round the wrestlers, babbling strangely. "Hold him!" he cried.
"Hold him, and I'll finish him!" His blade was shortened for a thrust,
but the movement of the wrestlers frustrated him. He made a pass, but
it only grazed the collar of Alastair's coat.

Then he found a better chance, and again his arm was shortened. A hot
quiver went through Alastair's shoulder, for a rapier had pinked the
flesh and had cut into the flapping pouch of Johnson's coat.

It may have been Alastair's cry, or the fierce shout of the man in
underclothes, but Johnson awoke suddenly to what was happening. He saw
a white face with fiery eyes, he saw the rapier drawn back for a new
thrust with blood on its point. . . . With a shudder he loosened his
grip and let Alastair go free.

"I have done murder," he cried, and staggered across the floor till he
fell against the dresser. His hands were at his eyes and he was shaken
with a passion of sobbing.

The two remaining faced each other, one in his stocking-soles, dancing
like a crazy thing in the glow of the wood-fire, triumph in his small
eyes. Alastair, dazed and shaken, was striving to draw his blade,
which, owing to the struggle, had become entangled in the skirts of his
riding-coat. The other, awaking to the new position of affairs, pressed
on him wildly till he gave ground. . . . And then he halted, for a
blade had crossed his.

Both men had light travelling-swords, which in a well-matched duello
should have met with the tinkle of thin ice in a glass. But now there
was the jar and whine of metal harshly used, for the one lunged
recklessly, and the other stood on a grim defensive, parrying with a
straight arm a point as disorderly as wildfire. Sir John Norreys had
the skill in fence of an ordinary English squire, learned from an
Oxford _maître d'escrime_ and polished by a lesson or two in Covent
Garden--an art no better than ignorance when faced with one perfected
by Gérard and d'Aubigny, and tested in twenty affairs against the best
blades of France.

Alastair's wound was a mere scratch, and at this clearing of issues his
wits had recovered and his strength returned. As he fought, his eyes
did not leave the other's face. He saw its chalky pallor, where the
freckles showed like the scars of smallpox, the sharp arrogant nose,
the weak mouth with the mean lines around it, the quick, hard eyes now
beginning to waver from their first fury. The man meant to kill him,
and as he realised this, the atmosphere of the duello fled, and it was
again the old combat _à outrance_ of his clan--his left hand reached
instinctively for the auxiliary dagger which should have hung at his
belt. And then he laughed, for whatever his enemy's purposes, success
was not likely to follow them.

The scene had to Alastair the spectral unreality of a dream. The
kitchen was hushed save for the fall of ashes on the hearth, the
strained sobbing of Johnson, and the rasp of the blades. The face of
Sir John Norreys was a mirror in which he read his own predominance.
The eyes lost their heat, the pupils contracted till they were two
shining beads in the dead white of the skin, the wild lunging grew
wilder, the breath came in short gasps. But the face was a mirror, too,
in which he read something of the future. If his resolution to spare
the man had not been already taken, it must now have become
irrevocable. This was a child, a stripling, who confronted him, a mere
amateur of vice, a thing which to slay would have been no better than
common murder. Pity for the man, even a strange kindness stole into
Alastair's soul. He wondered how he could ever have hated anything so
crude and weak.

He smiled again, and at that smile all the terrors of death crowded
into the other's face. He seemed to nerve himself for a last effort,
steadied the fury of his lunges and aimed a more skilful thrust in
tierce. Alastair had a mind to end the farce. His parry beat up the
other's blade, and by an easy device of the schools he twitched the
sword from his hand so that it clattered at Johnson's feet.

Sir John Norreys stood stock-still for an instant, his mouth working
like a child about to weep. Then some share of manhood returned to him.
He drew himself straight, swallowed what may have been a sob, and let
his arms drop by his side.

"I am at your mercy," he stammered. "What do you purpose with me?"

Alastair returned his sword to its sheath. "I purpose to save your
life," he said, "and if God be merciful, your soul."

He stripped off his riding-coat. "Take this," he said. "It is wintry
weather, and may serve till your own garments are dry. It is ill
talking unclad, Sir John, and we have much to say to each other."

Johnson had risen, and his face was heavy with an emotion which might
have been sorrow or joy. He stood with arm upraised like a priest
blessing his flock. "Now to Angels and Archangels and all the Company
of Heaven," he cried, and then he stopped, for the door opened softly
and closed again.

It was Midwinter that entered. His shoulders filled the doorway, and
his eyes constrained all three to a tense silence. He walked to the
fireplace, picking up Norreys's sword, which he bent into a half hoop
against the jamb of the chimney. As his quiet gaze fell on the company
it seemed to exercise a peaceful mastery which made the weapon in his
hand a mere trinket.

"You have summoned me, Captain Maclean," he said. "I am here to make
good my promise. Show me how I can serve you."

"We are constituted a court of honour," said Alastair. "We seek your
counsel."

He turned to Norreys.

"You are not two months married, Sir John. How many years have you to
your age?"

The man answered like an automaton. "I am in my twenty-third," he said.
He was looking alternately to his antagonist and to Midwinter, still
with the bewilderment of a dull child.

"Since when have you meddled in politics?"

"Since scarce two years."

"You were drawn to the Prince's side--by what? Was it family tradition?"

"No, damme, my father was a Hanover man when he lived. I turned
Jacobite to please Claudie. There was no welcome at Chastlecote unless
a man wore the white rose."

"And how came you into your recent business?"

"'Twas Kyd's doing. . . . No, curse it, I won't shelter behind
another, for I did it of my own free will. But 'twas Kyd showed me a
way of improving my fortunes, for he knew I cared not a straw who had
the governing of the land."

"And you were happy in the service?"

The baronet's face had lost its childishness, and had grown sullen.

"I was content." Then he broke out. "Rot him, I was not content--not of
late. I thought the Prince and his adventure was but a Scotch
craziness. But now, with him in the heart of England I have been
devilish anxious."

"For your own safety? Or was there perhaps another reason?"

Sir John's pale face flushed. "Let that be. Put it that I feared for my
neck and my estate."

Alastair turned smiling to the others. "I begin to detect the rudiments
of honesty . . . I am going to unriddle your thoughts, Sir John. You
were beginning to wonder how your wife would regard your courses. Had
the Prince shipwrecked beyond the Border, she would never have known of
them, and the Rising would have been between you only a sad pleasing
memory. But now she must learn the truth, and you are afraid. Why? She
is a lady of fortune, but you did not marry her for her fortune."

"My God, no," he cried. "I loved her most damnably, and I ever shall."

"And she loves you?"

The flush grew deeper. "She is but a child. She has scarcely seen
another man. I think she loves me."

"So you have betrayed the Prince's cause, because it did not touch you
deep and you favoured it only because of a lady's eyes. But the Prince
looks like succeeding, Sir John. He is now south of Derby on the road
to London, and his enemies do not abide him. What do you purpose in
that event? Have you the purchase at his Court to get your misdoings
overlooked?"

"I trusted to Kyd."

"Vain trust. Last night, after you left us so hastily, Kyd was stripped
to the bare bone."

"Was he sent to the Prince?" the man asked sharply.

"No. We preferred to administer our own justice, as we will do with
you. But he is gone into a long exile."

"Is he dead? . . . You promised me my life."

"He lives, as you shall live. Sir John, I will be frank with you. You
are a youth whom vanity and greed have brought deep into the mire. I
would get you out of it--not for your own sake, but for that of a lady
whom you love, I think, and who most assuredly loves you. Your
besetting sin is avarice. Well, let it be exercised upon your estates
and not upon the fortunes of better men. I have a notion that you may
grow with good luck into a very decent sort of man--not much of a
fellow at heart, perhaps, but reputable and reputed--at any rate enough
to satisfy the love-blinded eyes of your lady. Do you assent?"

The baronet reddened again at the contemptuous kindliness of Alastair's
words.

"I have no choice," he said gruffly.

"Then it is the sentence of this court that you retire to your estates
and live there without moving outside your park pale."

"Alone?"

"Alone. Your wife has gone into Wiltshire with her Grace of
Queensberry. You will stay at Weston till she returns to you, and that
date depends upon the posture of affairs in the country. You will give
me your oath to meddle no more in politics. And for the safety of your
person and the due observance of your promise you will be given an
escort on your journey south."

"Will you send Highlanders into Oxfordshire?" was the astonished
question.

Midwinter answered. "Nay, young sir, you will have the bodyguard of Old
England."

Sir John stared at Midwinter and saw something in that face which made
him avert his gaze. He suddenly shivered, and a different look came
into his eyes. "You have been merciful to me, sirs," he said, "merciful
beyond my deserts. I owe you more than I can repay."

"You owe it to your wife, sir," Alastair broke in. "Cherish her dearly
and let that be your atonement. . . . If you will take my advice, you
will snatch a little sleep, for you have been moss-trooping for a round
of the clock."

As the baronet's bare shanks disappeared up the stairway Alastair
turned wearily to the others. A haze seemed to cloud his eyes, and the
crackle of logs on the hearth sounded in his ears like the noise of the
sea.

"You were right," he told Johnson. "There's the makings of a sober
husband in that man. No hero, but she may be trusted to gild her idol.
I think she will be happy."

"You have behaved as a good Christian should." Mr Johnson was still
shaking as if from the ague. "Had I been in your case, I do not think I
would have shown so just a mind."

"Call it philosophy, which makes a man know what it is not in his power
to gain," Alastair laughed. "I think I have learned the trick of it
from you."

He swayed and caught Midwinter's shoulder. "Forgive me, old friend. I
have been riding for forty hours, and have fought and argued in
between, and before that I rose off a sick-bed. . . . But I must on
to Derby. Get a fresh horse, my brave one."

Midwinter drew him to an arm-chair, and seemed to fumble with his hands
for a second or two at his brow. When Johnson looked again Alastair was
asleep, while the other dressed roughly the hole in his shoulder made
by Sir John's sword.

"_Festina lente_, Mr Johnson. I can provide fresh beasts, but not fresh
legs for the riders. The pair of you will sleep for five hours and then
sup, for Derby is a far cry and an ill road, and if you start as you
are you will founder in the first slough."



_XVIII_      _In which Three Gentlemen Confess their Nakedness_


Fresh horses were found, and at four in the morning, four hours before
daylight in that murky weather, Alastair and Johnson left the inn. At
the first cross-roads Midwinter joined them.

"Set your mind at ease about Sir John," he said. "He will travel
securely to the Cherwell side, and none but the Spoonbills will know of
his journey. I think you have read him right, sir, and that he is a
prosy fellow who by accident has slipped into roguery and will return
gladly to his natural rut. But in case you are mistaken, he will be
overlooked by my people, for we are strong in that countryside. Be
advised, sir, and ride gently, for you have no bodily strength to
spare, and your master will not welcome a sick man."

"Do you ride to Derby with us?" Alastair asked.

"I have business on that road and will convey you thus far," was the
answer.

It was a morning when the whole earth and sky seemed suffused in
moisture. Fog strung its beads on their clothes, every hedgerow tree
dripped clammily, the roads were knee-deep in mud, floodwater lay in
leaden streaks in the hollows of flat fields, each sluggish brook was a
torrent, and at intervals the air would distil into a drenching shower.
Alastair's body was still weary, but his heart was lightened. He had
finished now with dalliance and was back at his old trade; and for the
moment the memory of Claudia made only a warm background to the hopes
of a soldier. Little daggers of doubt stabbed his thoughts--he had
sacrificed another day and night in his chase of Sir John, and the
Prince had now been at Derby the better part of forty hours without
that report which he had promised. But surely, he consoled himself, so
slight a delay could matter nothing; an army which had marched
triumphant to the heart of England, and had already caused the souls of
its enemies to faint, could not falter when the goal was within sight.
But the anxiety hung like a _malaise_ about the fringes of his temper
and caused him now and then to spur his horse fifty yards beyond his
companion.

The road they travelled ran to Derby from the south-west, and its deep
ruts showed the heavy traffic it had lately borne. By it coaches,
waggons and every variety of pack and riding horse had carried the
timid folks of Derbyshire into sanctuaries beyond the track of the
Highland army. To-day the traffic had shrunk to an occasional horseman
or a farmer's wife with panniers, and a jovial huntsman in red who,
from his greeting, seemed thus early to have been powdering his wig.
Already the country was settling down, thought Alastair, as folk
learned of the Prince's clemency and good-will. . . . The army would
not delay at Derby, but was probably now on the move southward. It
would go by Loughborough and Leicester, but cavalry patrols might show
themselves on the flank to the west. At any moment some of Elcho's or
Pitsligo's horse, perhaps young Tinnis himself, might canter out of the
mist.

He cried to Midwinter, asking whether it would not be better to assume
that the Prince had left the town, and to turn more southward so as to
cut in on his march.

"Derby is the wiser goal," Midwinter answered. "It is unlikely that His
Highness himself will have gone, for he will travel with the
rear-guard. In three hours you will see All Saints' spire."

At eight they halted for food at a considerable village. It was Friday,
and while the other two attacked a cold sirloin, Alastair broke his
fast on a crust, resisting the landlord's offer of carp or eels from
the Trent on the ground that they would take too long to dress. Then to
pass the time while the others finished their meal he wandered into the
street, and stopped by the church door. The place was open, and he
entered to find a service proceeding and a thin man in a black gown
holding forth to an audience of women. No Jacobite this parson, for his
text was from the 18th chapter of Second Chronicles. "Wilt thou go up
with me to Ramoth-Gilead?" and the sermon figured the Prince as Ahab of
Israel and Ramoth-Gilead as that (unspecified) spot where he was to
meet his fate.

"A bold man the preacher," thought Alastair, as he slipped out, "to
croak like a raven against a triumphing cause." But it appeared there
were other bold men in the place. He stopped opposite a tavern, from
which came the sound of drunken mirth, and puzzled at its cause, when
the day's work should be beginning. Then he reflected that with war in
the next parish men's minds must be unsettled and their first
disposition to stray towards ale-houses. Doubtless these honest fellows
were celebrating the deliverance of England.

But the words, thickly uttered, which disentangled themselves from the
tavern were other than he had expected:

  "George is magnanimous,
  Subjects unanimous,
    Peace to us bring."

ran the ditty, and the chorus called on God to save the usurper. He
stood halted in a perplexity which was half anger, for he had a notion
to give these louts the flat of his sword for their treason. Then
someone started an air he knew too well:

  "O Brother Sawney, hear you the news?
  Twang 'em, we'll bang 'em and
    Hang 'em up all.
  An army's just coming without any shoes,
  Twang 'em, we'll bang 'em, and
    Hang 'em up all."


It was that accursed air "Lilibulero" which had drummed His Highness's
grandfather out of England. Surely the ale-house company must be a
patrol of Kingston's or Richmond's, that had got perilously becalmed
thus far north. He walked to the window and cast a glance inside. No,
they were heavy red-faced yokels, the men-folk of the village. He had a
second of consternation at the immensity of the task of changing this
leaden England.

As they advanced the roads were better peopled, market folk for the
most part returning from Derby, and now and then parties of young men
who cried news to women who hung at the corners where farm tracks
debouched from the highway. In all these folk there was an air of
expectancy and tension natural in a land on the confines of war. The
three travellers bettered their pace. "In an hour," Midwinter told
them, "we reach the Ashbourne road and so descend on Derby from the
north." As the minutes passed, Alastair's excitement grew till he had
hard work to conform his speed to that of his companions. He longed to
hasten on--not from anxiety, for that had left him, but from a passion
to see his Prince again, to be with comrades-in-arms, to share in the
triumph of these days of marvel. Somewhere in Derby His Highness would
now be kneeling at mass; he longed to be at his side in that sacrament
of dedication.

Then as they topped a ridge in a sudden clearing of the weather a noble
spire rose some miles ahead, and around it in the flat of a wide valley
hung the low wisps of smoke which betokened human dwellings. It did not
need Midwinter's cry of "All Saints" to tell Alastair that he was
looking at the place which held his master and the hope of the Cause.
By tacit consent the three men spurred their beasts, and rode into a
village, the long street of which ran north and south. "'Tis the high
road from Ashbourne to Derby," said Midwinter. "To the right, sirs,
unless you are for Manchester and Scotland."

But there was that about the village which made each pull on his bridle
rein. It was as still as a churchyard. Every house door was closed, and
at the little windows could be seen white faces and timid eyes. The inn
door had been smashed and the panes in its front windows, and a cask in
the middle of the street still trickled beer from its spigot. It might
have been the night after a fair, but instead it was broad daylight,
and the after-taste was less of revelry than of panic.

The three men slowly and silently moved down the street, and the heart
of one of them was the prey of a leaping terror. Scared eyes, like
those of rabbits in a snare, were watching them from the windows. In
the inn-yard there was no sign of a soul, except the village idiot who
was playing ninepins with bottles. Midwinter hammered on a back door,
but there was no answer. But as they turned again towards the street
they were aware of a mottled face that watched them from a side window.
Apparently the face was satisfied with their appearance, for the window
was slightly opened and a voice cried "Hist!" Alastair turned and saw a
troubled fat countenance framed in the sash of a pantry casement.

"Be the salvages gone, gen'lemen?" the voice asked. "The murderin'
heathen has blooded my best cow to make their beastly porridge."

"We have but now arrived," said Alastair. "We are for Derby. Pray, sir,
what pestilence has stricken this place?"

"For Derby," said the man. "Ye'll find a comfortable town, giving
thanks to Almighty God and cleansin' the lousiness of its habitation.
What pestilence, says you? A pestilence, verily, good sir, for since
cockcrow the rebel army has been meltin' away northwards like the hosts
o' Sennacherib before the blast of the Lord. Horse and foot and
coaches, and the spawn o' Rome himself in the midst o' them. Not but
what he be a personable young man, with his white face and pretty white
wig, and his sad smile, and where he was the rebels marched like an
army. But there was acres of breechless rabbledom at his heels that
thieved like pyots. Be they all passed, think ye?"

The chill at Alastair's heart turned to ice.

"But the Prince is in Derby," he stammered. "He marches south."

"Not so, young sir," said the man. "I dunno the why of it, but since
cockcrow he and his rascality has been fleein' north. Old England's too
warm for the vermin and they're hastin' back to their bogs."

The head was suddenly withdrawn, since the man saw something which was
still hid from the others. There was a sound of feet in the road, the
soft tread which deer make when they are changing their pasture. From
his place in the alley Alastair saw figures come into sight, a string
of outlandish figures that without pause or word poured down the
street. There were perhaps a score of them--barefoot Highlanders, their
ragged kilts buckled high on their bodies, their legs blue with cold,
their shirts unspeakably foul and tattered, their long hair matted into
elf-locks. Each man carried plunder, one a kitchen clock slung on his
back by a rope, another a brace of squalling hens, another some
goodman's wraprascal. Their furtive eyes raked the houses, but they did
not pause in the long loping trot with which of a moonlight night they
had often slunk through the Lochaber passes. They wore the Macdonald
tartan, and the familiar sight seemed to strip from Alastair's eyes the
last film of illusion.

So that was the end of the long song. Gone the velvet and steel of a
great crusade, the honourable hopes, the chivalry and the high
adventure, and what was left was this furtive banditti slinking through
the mud like the riff-raff of a fair. . . . It was too hideous to
envisage, and the young man's mind was mercifully dulled after the
first shattering certainty. Mechanically the three turned into the
street.

The courage of the inhabitants was reviving. One or two men had shown
themselves, and one fellow with a flageolet was starting a tune.
Another took it up, and began to sing.

  "O Brother Sawney, hear you the news?"

and presently several joined in the chorus of

  "Twang 'em, we'll bang 'em, and
    Hang 'em up all."


"Follow me," said Midwinter, and they followed him beyond the houses,
and presently turned off into a path that ran among woods into the
dale. In Alastair's ears the accursed tune rang like the voice of
thousands, till it seemed that all England behind him was singing it, a
scornful valedictory to folly.

He dismounted in a dream and found himself set by the hearth in the
well-scrubbed kitchen of a woodland inn. Midwinter disappeared and
returned with three tankards of home-brewed, which he distributed among
them. No one spoke a word, Johnson sprawling on a chair with his chin
on his breast and his eyes half-closed, while his left hand beat an
aimless tattoo, Midwinter back in the shadows, and Alastair in the eye
of the fire, unseeing and absorbed. The palsy was passing from the
young man's mind, and he was enduring the bitterness of returning
thought, like the pain of the blood flowing back to a frozen limb. No
agony ever endured before in his life, not even the passion of disquiet
when he had been prisoner in the hut and had overheard Sir John
Norreys's talk, had so torn at the roots of his being.

For it was clear that on him and on him alone had the Cause
shipwrecked. At some hour yesterday the fainthearts in the Council had
won, and the tragic decision had been taken, the Prince protesting--he
could see the bleached despair in his face and hear the hopeless
pleading in his voice. He imagined Lochiel and others of the stalwarts
pleading for a day's delay, delay which might bring the lost messenger,
himself, with the proofs that would convince the doubters. All was over
now, for a rebellion on the defensive was a rebellion lost. With London
at their mercy, with Cumberland and the Whig Dukes virtually in flight,
and a dumb England careless which master was hers, they had turned
their back on victory and gone northward to chaos and defeat. And all
because of their doubt of support, which was even then waiting in the
West for their summons. Mr Nicholas Kyd had conquered in his downfall,
and in his exile would chuckle over the discomfiture of his judges.

But it had been his own doing--his and none other's. Providence had
provided an eleventh-hour chance, which he had refused. Had he ridden
straight from Brightwell, he could have been with the Prince in the
small hours of the morning, time enough to rescind the crazy decision
and set the army on the road for Loughborough and St James's. But he
had put his duty behind him for a whim. Not a whim of pleasure--for he
had sacrificed his dearest hopes--but of another and a lesser duty. A
perverse duty, it seemed to him now, the service of a woman rather than
of his King. Great God, what a tangle was life! He felt no bitterness
against any mortal soul, not even against the oafs who were now singing
"George is magnanimous." He and he alone must bear the blame, since in
a high mission he had let his purpose be divided, and in a crisis had
lacked that singleness of aim which is the shining virtue of the
soldier. . . . His imagination, heated to fever point, made a
panorama of tragic scenes. He saw the Prince's young face thin and
haggard and drawn, looking with hopeless eyes into the northern mists,
a Pretender now for evermore, when he might have been a King. He saw
his comrades, condemned to lost battles with death or exile at the end
of them. He saw his clan, which might have become great again, reduced
to famished vagrants, like the rabble of Macdonalds seen an hour ago
scurrying at the tail of the army. . . . That knot of caterans was
the true comment on the tragedy. Plunderers of old wives' plenishing
when they should have been a King's bodyguard in the proud courts of
palaces!

The picture maddened him with its bitter futility. He dropped his head
on his breast and cried like a heartbroken child. "Ah, my grief, my
grief! I have betrayed my Prince and undone my people. There is no
comfort for me any more in the world." At the cry Johnson lifted his
head, and stared with eyes not less tragic than his own.

Midwinter had carried that day at his saddle-bow an oddly shaped case
which never left him. Back in the shadow he had opened it and taken out
his violin, and now drew from it the thin fine notes which were the
prelude to his playing. Alastair did not notice the music for a little,
but gradually familiar chords struck in on his absorption and awoke
their own memories. It was the air of "Diana," which was twined with
every crisis of the past weeks. The delicate melody filled the place
like a vapour, and to the young man brought not peace, but a different
passion.

A passion of tenderness was in it, a wayward wounded beauty. Claudia's
face again filled his vision, the one face that in all his life had
brought love into his bustling soldierly moods and moved his heart to
impulses which aforetime he would have thought incredible. Love had
come to him and he had passed it by, but not without making sacrifice,
for to the goddess he had offered his most cherished loyalties. Now it
was all behind him--but by God, he did not, he would not regret it. He
had taken the only way, and if it had pleased Fate to sport cruelly
with him, that was no fault of his. He had sacrificed one loyalty to a
more urgent, and with the thought bitterness went out of his soul.
Would Lochiel, would the Prince blame him? Assuredly no. Tragedy had
ensued, but the endeavour had been honest. He saw the ironic pattern of
life spread out beneath him, as a man views a campaign from a mountain,
and he came near to laughter--laughter with an undertone of tears.

Midwinter changed the tune, and the air was now that which he had
played that night on Otmoor in the camp of the moor-men.

  "Three naked men we be,
  Stark aneath the blackthorn tree."


He laid down his violin. "I bade you call me to your aid, Alastair
Maclean, if all else failed you and your pride miscarried. Maybe that
moment has come. We in this place are three naked men."

"I am bare to the bone," said Alastair, "I have given up my lady, and I
have failed in duty to my Prince. I have no rag of pride left on me,
nor ambition, nor hope."

Johnson spoke. "I am naked enough, but I had little to lose. I am a
scholar and a Christian and, I trust, a gentleman, but I am bitter
poor, and ill-favoured, and sore harassed by bodily affliction. Naked,
ay, naked as when I came from the womb."

Midwinter moved into the firelight, with a crooked smile on his broad
face. "We be three men in like case," he said. "Nakedness has its
merits and its faults. A naked man travels fast and light, for he has
nothing that he can lose, and his mind is free from cares, so that it
is better swept and garnished for the reception of wisdom. But if he be
naked he is also defenceless, and the shod feet of the world can hurt
him. You have been sore trampled on, sirs. One has lost a lady whom he
loved as a father, and the other a mistress and a Cause. Naturally your
hearts are sore. Will you that I help in the healing of them? Will you
join me in Old England, which is the refuge of battered men?"

Alastair looked up and gently shook his head. "For me," he said, "I go
up to Ramoth-Gilead, like the King of Israel I heard the parson speak
of this morning. It is fated that I go there and it is fated that I
fail. Having done so much to wreck the Cause, the least I can do is to
stand by it to the end. I am convinced that the end is not far off, and
if it be also the end of my days I am content."

"And I," said Johnson, "have been minded since this morning to get me a
sword and fight in His Highness's army."

Alastair looked at the speaker with eyes half affectionate, half amused.

"Nay, that I do not permit. In Scotland we strive on our own ground and
in our own quarrel, and I would involve no Englishman in what is
condemned to defeat. You have not our sentiments, sir, and you shall
not share our disasters. But I shall welcome your company to within
sight of Ramoth-Gilead."

"I offer the hospitality of Old England," said Midwinter.

There was no answer and he went on--

"It is balm for the wearied, sirs, and a wondrous opiate for the
unquiet. If you have lost all baggage, you retire to a world where
baggage is unknown. If you seek wisdom, you will find it, and you will
forget alike the lust of life and the dread of death."

"Can you teach me to forget the fear of death?" Johnson asked sharply.
"Hark you, sir, I am a man of stout composition, for there is something
gusty and gross in my humour which makes me careless of common fear. I
will face an angry man, or mob, or beast with equanimity, even with
joy. But the unknown terrors of death fill me, when I reflect on them,
with the most painful forebodings. I conjecture, and my imagination
wanders in labyrinths of dread. I most devoutly believe in the living
God, and I stumblingly attempt to serve Him, but 'tis an awful thing to
fall into His hand."

"In Old England," said Midwinter, "they look on death as not less
natural and kindly than the shut of evening. They lay down their heads
on the breast of earth as a flower dies in the field."

Johnson was looking with abstracted eyes to the misty woods beyond a
lozenged window, and he replied like a man thinking his own thoughts
aloud.

"The daedal earth!" he muttered. "Poets, many poets, have sung of it,
and I have had glimpses of it. . . . A sweet and strange thing when
a man quits the servitude of society and goes to nurse with Gaea. I
remember . . ."

Then a new reflection seemed to change his mood and bring him to his
feet with his hands clenched.

"Tut, sir," he cried, "these are but brutish consolations. I can find
that philosophy in pagan writers, and it has small comfort for a
Christian. I thank you, but I have no part in your world of woods and
mountains. I am better fitted for a civil life, and must needs return
to London and bear the burden of it in a garret. But I am not yet
persuaded as to that matter of taking arms. I have a notion that I am a
good man of my hands."

Midwinter's eyes were on Alastair, who smiled and shook his head.

"You offer me Old England, but I am of another race and land. I must
follow the road of my fathers."

"That is your answer?"

"Nay, it is not all my answer. Could you understand the Gaelic, or had
I my fingers now on the chanter-reed, I could give it more fully. You
in England must keep strictly to the high road, or flee to the
woods--one or the other, for there is no third way. We of the Highlands
carry the woods with us to the high roads of life. We are natives of
both worlds, wherefore we need renounce neither. But my feet must tread
the high road till my strength fails."

"It was the answer I looked for," said Midwinter, and he rose and slung
his violin on his arm. "Now we part, gentlemen, and it is not likely
that we shall meet again. But nevertheless you are sealed of our
brotherhood, for you are of the Naked Men, since the film has gone from
your sight and you have both looked into your own hearts. You can never
again fear mortal face or the tricks of fortune, for you are men
indeed, and can confront your Maker with honest eyes. Farewell,
brother." He embraced Alastair and kissed him on the cheek, and held
for a second Johnson's great hand in his greater. Then he left the
room, and a minute later a horse's hooves drummed on the stones of the
little yard.

For a little the two left behind sat in silence. Then Johnson spoke:

"My dear young lady should by this time be across Trent. I take it that
she is safe from all perils of the road in Her Grace's carriage." Then
he took up a poker and stirred the logs. "Clear eyes are for men an
honourable possession, but they do not make for happiness. I pray God
that those of my darling child may to the end of a long life be happily
blinded."



_XIX_      _Ramoth-Gilead_


Three hours' hard riding should have brought them to the tail of the
Highland army, but the horses were still in their stalls when the night
fell. For, as he sat by the fire with Johnson, the latches of
Alastair's strength were loosened and it fell from him. The clout on
the head, the imperfect convalescence, the seasons of mental conflict
and the many hours in the saddle had brought even his tough body to
cracking-point. The room swam before his eyes, there was burning pain
in his head, and dizziness and nausea made him collapse in his chair.
Johnson and the hostess's son, a half-grown boy, carried him to bed,
and all night he was in an ague--the return, perhaps, of the low fever
which had followed his wound at Fontenoy. There was a buzzing in his
brain which happily prevented thought, and next day, when the fever
ebbed, he was so weak that his mind was content to be vacant. By such
merciful interposition he escaped the bitterest pangs of reproach which
would have followed his realisation of failure.

The first afternoon Johnson sat with him, giving him vinegar and water
to sip, and changing the cool cloths on his brow. Alastair was drifting
aimlessly on the tide of weakness, seeing faces--Claudia, Kitty of
Queensberry, Cornbury, very notably the handsome periwigged head of the
King's Solicitor--like the stone statues in a garden. They had no
cognisance of him, and he did not wish to attract their notice, for
they belonged to a world that had vanished, and concerned him less than
the figures on a stage. By and by his consciousness became clearer, and
he was aware of a heartbreak that enveloped him like an atmosphere, a
great cloud of grief that must shadow his path for ever. And yet there
were rifts in it where light as from a spring sky broke through, and he
found himself melting at times in a sad tenderness. He had lost
tragically, but he had learned that there was more to prize than he had
dreamed.

Johnson, his face like a bishop's, sat at the bed foot, saying nothing,
but gazing at the sick man with the eyes of an old friendly dog. When
Alastair was able to drink the gruel the hostess produced, the tutor
considered that he must assist his recovery by sprightly conversation.
But the honest man's soul had been so harassed in the past days that he
found it hard to be jocose. He sprawled in his wooden chair, and the
window which faced him revealed sundry rents in his small-clothes and
the immense shabbiness of his coat. Alastair on his bed watched the
heavy pitted features, the blinking eyes, the perpetually twitching
hands with a certainty that never in his days had he seen a man so
uncouth or so wholly to be loved; and, as he looked, he seemed to
discern that in the broad brow and the noble head which was also to be
revered.

The young man's gaze having after the fashion of sick folk fixed itself
upon one spot, Johnson became conscious of it, and looked down on his
disreputable garments with distaste not unmixed with humour.

"My clothes are old and sorry," he said. "I lament the fact, sir, for I
am no lover of negligence in dress. A wise man dare not go
under-dressed till he is of consequence enough to forbear carrying the
badge of his rank upon his back. That is not my case, and I would fain
be more decent in my habiliments, which do not properly become even my
modest situation in life. But I confess that at the moment I have but
two guineas, given me by my dear young lady, and I have destined them
for another purpose than haberdashery."

What this purpose was appeared before the next evening. During the
afternoon Johnson disappeared in company with the youth of the inn, and
returned at the darkening with a face flushed and triumphant. Alastair,
whose strength was reviving, was sitting up when the door opened to
admit a deeply self-conscious figure.

It was Johnson in a second-hand riding-coat of blue camlet, cut
somewhat in the military fashion, and in all likelihood once the
property of some dashing yeoman. But that was only half of his new
magnificence, for below the riding-coat, beneath his drab coat, and
buckled above his waistcoat, was a great belt, and from the belt
depended a long scabbard.

"I make you my compliments," said Alastair. "You have acquired a cloak."

"Nay, sir, but I have acquired a better thing. I have got me a sword."

He struggled with his skirts and after some difficulty drew from its
sheath a heavy old-fashioned cut-and-thrust blade, of the broadsword
type. With it he made a pass or two, and then brought it down in a
sweep which narrowly missed the bedpost.

"Now am I armed against all enemies," he cried, stamping his foot. "If
Polyphemus comes, have at his eye," and he lunged towards the window.

The mingled solemnity and triumph of his air checked Alastair's
laughter. "This place is somewhat confined for sword-play," he said.
"Put it up, and tell me where you discovered the relic."

"I purchased it this very afternoon, through the good offices of the
lad below. There was an honest or indifferent honest fellow in the
neighbourhood who sold me cloak, belt and sword for three half-guineas.
It is an excellent weapon, and I trust to you, sir, to give me a lesson
or two in its use."

He flung off the riding-coat, unbuckled the belt and sat himself in his
accustomed chair.

"Two men are better than one on the roads," he said, "the more if both
are armed. I would consult you, sir, on a point of honour. I have told
you that I am reputably, though not highly born, and I have had a
gentleman's education. I am confident that but for a single
circumstance, no gentleman need scruple to cross swords with me or to
draw his sword by my side. The single circumstance is this--I have
reason to believe that a relative suffered death by hanging, though for
what cause I do not know, since the man disappeared utterly and his end
is only a matter of gossip. Yet I must take the supposition at its
worst. Tell me, sir, does that unhappy connection in your view deprive
me of the armigerous rights of a gentleman?"

This time Alastair did not forbear to smile.

"Why no, sir. In my own land, the gallows is reckoned an ornament to a
pedigree, and it has been the end of many a promising slip of my own
house. Indeed it is not unlikely to be the end of me. But why do you
ask the question?"

"Because I purpose to go with you to the wars."

Johnson's face was as serious as a judge's, and his dull eyes had
kindled with a kind of shamefaced ardour. The young man felt so strong
a tide of affection rising in him for this uncouth crusader that he had
to do violence to his own inclination in shaping his counsel.

"It cannot be, my dear sir," he cried. "I honour you, I love you, but I
will not permit a futile sacrifice. Had England risen for our Prince,
your aid would have been most heartily welcome, but now the war will be
in Scotland, and I tell you it is as hopeless as a battle of a single
kestrel against a mob of ravens. I fight in it, for that is my trade
and duty; I have been bred to war, and it is the quarrel of my house
and my race. But for you it is none of these things. You would be a
stranger in a foreign strife. . . . Nay, sir, but you must listen to
reason. You are a scholar and have your career to make in a far
different world. God knows I would welcome your comradeship, for I
respect your courage and I love your honest heart, but I cannot suffer
you to ride to certain ruin. Gladly I accept your convoy, but you will
stop short of Ramoth-Gilead."

The other's face was a heavy mask of disappointment. "I must be the
judge of my own path," he said sullenly.

"But you will be guided in that judgment by one who knows better than
you the certainties of the road. It is no part of a man's duty to walk
aimlessly to death."

The last word seemed to make Johnson pause. But he recovered himself.

"I have counted the cost," he said. "I fear death, God knows, but not
more than other men. I will be no stranger in your wars. I will change
my name to MacIan, and be as fierce as any Highlander."

"It cannot be. What you told Midwinter is the truth. If you are not
fitted by nature for Old England, still less are you fitted for our
wild long-memoried North. You will go back to London, Mr Johnson, and
some day you will find fortune and happiness. You will marry some day
. . ."

At the word Johnson's face grew very red, and he turned his eyes on the
ground and rolled his head with an odd nervous motion.

"I have misled you," he said. "I have been married these ten years. My
dear Tetty is now living in the vicinity of London. . . . I have not
written to her for seven weeks. _Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!_"

He put his head in his hands and seemed to be absorbed in a passion of
remorse.

"You must surely return to her," said Alastair gently.

Johnson raised his head. "I would not have you think that I had
forgotten her. She has her own small fortune, which suffices for one,
though scant enough for two. I earn so little that I am rather an
encumbrance than an aid, and she is more prosperous in my absence."

"Yet she must miss you, and if you fall she will be widowed."

"True, true. I have no clearness in the matter. I will seek light in
prayer and sleep." He marched from the room, leaving his new
accoutrements lying neglected in a corner.

Next day Alastair was sufficiently recovered to travel, and the two set
out shortly after daylight. The woman of the inn, who had been
instructed by Midwinter, had counsel to give. The Ashbourne road was
too dangerous, for already the pursuit had begun and patrols of
Government horse were on the trail of the Highlanders; two gentlemen
such as they might be taken for the tail of the rebels and suffer
accordingly. She advised that the road should be followed by
Chesterfield and the east side of the county, which would avoid the
high hills of the Peak and bring them to Manchester and the Lancashire
levels by an easier if a longer route. It was agreed that the two
should pass as master and man--Mr Andrew Watson, the coal-merchant of
Newcastle, and his secretary.

The secretary, ere they started, drew his sword and fingered it
lovingly. "I must tell you," he whispered to Alastair, "that the
reflections of the night have not shaken my purpose. I am still
resolved to accompany you to the wars."

But there was no gusto in his air. All that day among the shallow vales
he hardly spoke, and now and then would groan lamentably. The weather
was mist and driving rain, and the travellers' prospect was little
beyond the puddles of the road and the wet glistening stone of the
roadside dykes. That night they had risen into the hills, where the
snow lay in the hollows and at the dyke-backs, and slept at a wretched
hovel of a smithy on a bed of bracken. The smith, a fellow with a
week's beard and red-rimmed eyes, gave the news of the place. The
Scots, he had heard, had passed Macclesfield the night before, and all
day the militia, horsed by the local squires, had been scouting the
moors picking up breechless stragglers. He did not appear to suspect
his sullen visitors, who proclaimed their hurry to reach Manchester on
an errand of trade.

Thereafter to both men the journey was a nightmare. In Manchester,
where they slept a night, the mob was burning Charles in effigy and
hiccuping "George is magnanimous"--that mob which some weeks before had
worn white favours and drunk damnation to Hanover. They saw a few
miserable Highlanders, plucked from the tail of the army, in the hands
of the town guard, and a mountebank in a booth had got himself up in a
parody of a kilt and sang ribaldry to a screaming crowd. They heard,
too, of the Government troops hard on the trail, Wade cutting in from
the east by the hill roads, Cumberland hastening from the south,
Bland's and Cobham's regiments already north of the town, mounted
yeomen to guard the fords and bridges, and beacons blazing on every
hill to raise the country.

"The Prince must halt and fight," Alastair told his companion as they
rode out of Manchester next morning. "With this hell's pack after him
he will be smothered unless he turn and tear them. Lord George will
command the rear-guard, and I am positive he will stand at Preston.
Ribble ford is the place. You may yet witness a battle, and have the
chance of fleshing that blade of yours."

But when they came to Preston--by circuitous ways, for they had to keep
up the pretence of timid travellers, and the main road was too thick
with alarums--they found the bridge held by dragoons. Here they were
much catechised, and, having given Newcastle as their destination, were
warned that the northern roads into Yorkshire were not for travellers
and bidden go back to Manchester. The Prince, it seemed, was at
Lancaster, and Lord George and the Glengarry men and the Appin Stewarts
half-way between that town and Preston.

That night Alastair implored Johnson to return. "We are on the edge of
battle," he told him, "and I beseech you to keep away from what can
only bring you ruin." But the other was obstinate. "I will see you at
any rate on the eve of joining your friends," he said, "We have yet to
reach Ramoth-Gilead."

The Preston dragoons were too busy on their own affairs to give much
heed to two prosaic travellers. Alastair and Johnson stole out of the
town easily enough next morning, and making a wide circuit to the west
joined the Lancaster road near Garstang. To their surprise the highway
was almost deserted, and they rode into Lancaster without hindrance.
There they found the town in a hubbub, windows shuttered, entries
barricaded, the watch making timid patrols about the streets, and one
half the people looking anxiously south, the other fearfully north to
the Kendal road. The Prince had been there no later than yesterday, and
the rear-guard had left at dawn. News had come that the Duke of
Cumberland was recalled, because of a French landing, and there were
some who said that now the Scots would turn south again and ravage
their way to London.

The news, which he did not believe, encouraged Alastair to mend his
pace. There had been some kind of check in the pursuit, and the Prince
might yet cross the Border without a battle. He believed that this
would be Lord George's aim, who knew his army and would not risk it, if
he could, in a weary defensive action. The speed of march would
therefore be increased, and he must quicken if he would catch them up.
The two waited in Lancaster only to snatch a meal, and then set out by
the Hornby road, intending to fetch a circuit towards Kendal, where it
seemed likely the Prince would lie.

The afternoon was foggy and biting cold, so that Alastair looked for
snow and called on Johnson to hurry before the storm broke. But the
fall was delayed, and up to the darkening they rode in an icy haze
through the confused foothills. The mountains were beginning again, the
hills of bent and heather that he knew; the streams swirled in grey
rock-rimmed pools, the air had the sour, bleak, yet invigorating tang
of his own country. But now he did not welcome it, for it was the
earnest of defeat. He was returning after failure. Nay, he was leaving
his heart buried in the soft South country, which once he had despised.
A wild longing, the perversion of homesickness, filled him for the
smoky brown champaigns and the mossy woodlands which now enshrined the
jewel of Claudia. He had thought that regrets were put away for ever
and that he had turned his eyes stonily to a cold future, but he had
forgotten that he was young.

In the thick weather they came from the lanes into a broader high road,
and suddenly found their progress stayed. A knot of troopers bade them
halt, and unslung their muskets. They were fellows in green jackets,
mounted on shaggy country horses, and they spoke with the accent of the
Midlands. Alastair repeated his tale, and was informed that their
orders were to let no man pass that road and to take any armed and
mounted travellers before the General. He asked their regiment and was
told that it was the Rangers, a corps of gentlemen volunteers. The men
were cloddish but not unfriendly, and, suspecting that the corps was
some raw levy of yokels commanded by some thickskulled squire, Alastair
bowed to discretion and bade them show the way to the General's
quarters.

But the moorland farmhouse to which they were led awoke his doubts. The
sentries had the trimness of a headquarters guard, and the horses he
had a glimpse of in the yard were not the screws or cart-horses of the
ordinary yeoman. While they waited in the low-ceiled kitchen he had
reached the conclusion that in the General he would find some regular
officer of Wade's or Cumberland's command, and as he bowed his head to
enter the parlour he had resolved on his line of conduct.

But he was not prepared for the sight of Oglethorpe; grim, aquiline,
neat as a Sunday burgess, who raised his head from a mass of papers,
stared for a second and then smiled.

"You have brought me a friend, Roger," he told the young lieutenant.
"These gentlemen will be quartered here this night, for the weather is
too thick to travel further; likewise they will sup with me."

When the young man had gone, he held out his hand to Alastair.

"We seem fated to cross each other's path, Mr Maclean."

"I would present to you my friend, Mr Samuel Johnson, sir. This is
General Oglethorpe."

Johnson stared at him and then thrust forward a great hand.

"I am honoured, sir, deeply honoured. Every honest man has heard the
name." And he repeated:

  "One, driven by strong benevolence of soul,
  "Shall fly like Oglethorpe from pole to pole."


The General smiled. "Mr Pope was over-kind to my modest deserts. But,
gentlemen, I am in command of a part of His Majesty's forces, and at
this moment we are in the region of war. I must request from you some
account of your recent doings and your present purpose. Come forward to
the fire, for it is wintry weather. And stay! Your Prince's steward has
been scouring the country for cherry brandy, to which it seems His
Highness is partial. But all has not been taken." He filled two glasses
from a decanter at his elbow.

Looking at the rugged face and the grave kindly eyes, Alastair resolved
that it was a case for a full confession. He told of his doings at
Brightwell after the meeting with Oglethorpe at the Sleeping Deer, and
of the fate of Mr Nicholas Kyd, but he made no mention of Sir John
Norreys. He told of his ride to Derby, and what he had found on the
Ashbourne road. It is possible that there was a break in his voice, for
Oglethorpe averted his eyes and shook his head.

"I cannot profess to regret a failure which it is my duty to ensure,"
he said, "but I can pity a brave man who sees his hopes destroyed. And
now, sir? What course do you shape?"

"I must pursue the poor remains of my duty. I go to join my Prince."

"And it is my business to prevent you!"

Alastair looked at him composedly. "Nay, sir, I do not think that such
can be your duty. It might be Cumberland's or Wade's, but not
Oglethorpe's, for you can understand another loyalty than your own, and
I do not think you will interfere with mine. I ask only to go back to
my own country. I will give you my word that I will not strike a blow
in England."

Again Oglethorpe smiled. "You read my heart with some confidence, sir.
If I were to detain you, what would be the charge? You have not yet
taken arms against His Majesty. Of your political doings I have no
experience: to me you are a gentleman travelling to Scotland, who has
on one occasion rendered good service to myself and so to His Majesty.
That is all which, as a soldier, I am concerned to know. You will have
quarters for the night, and tomorrow, if you desire it, continue your
journey. But I must stipulate that the road you follow is not that of
the Prince's march. You will not join his army till it is north of Esk."

Alastair bowed. "I am content."

"But your friend," Oglethorpe continued. "This Mr Samuel Johnson who
quotes so appositely the lines of Mr Pope. He is an Englishman, and is
in another case. I cannot permit Mr Johnson to cross the Border."

"He purposes to keep me company," said Alastair, "till I have joined
the Prince."

"Nay, sir," cried Johnson. "You have been honest with us, and I will be
honest with you. My desire is to join the Prince and fight by my
friend's side."

Oglethorpe looked at the strange figure, below the skirts of whose old
brown coat peeped a scabbard. "You seem," he said, "to have fulfilled
the scriptural injunction 'He that hath no sword, let him sell his
garment and buy one.' But, sir, it may not be. I would not part two
friends before it is necessary, but you will give me your parole that
you will not enter Scotland, or I must hold you prisoner and send you
to Manchester."

Johnson turned to Alastair and put a hand on his shoulder.

"It seems that Providence is on your side, my friend, and has
intervened to separate us. That was your counsel, but it was never
mine. . . . So be it, then." He walked to the window and seemed to
be in trouble with his dingy cravat.

* * * * * *

Next morning when Oglethorpe's Rangers began their march towards Shap,
the two travellers set out by an easterly road, forded the Lune and
made for the Eden valley. The rains filled the streams and mosses, and
their progress was slow, so that for days they were entangled among the
high Cumbrian hills. News of the affair at Clifton, where Lord George
beat off Cumberland's van and saved the retreat, came to them by a
packman in a herd's sheiling on Cross Fell, and after that their
journey was clear down the Eden, till the time came to avoid Carlisle
and make straight across country for Esk. The last night they lay at an
ale-house on the Lyneside, and Alastair counted thirty guineas from his
purse.

"With this I think you may reach London," he told Johnson, and when the
latter expostulated, he bade him consider it a loan. "If I fall, it is
my bequest to you; and if I live, then we shall assuredly meet again
and you can repay me. I would fain make it more, but money is likely to
be a scarce commodity in yonder army."

"You have a duty clear before you," said the other dismally. "For me, I
have none such; I would I had. But I will seek no opiates in a life of
barbarism. I am resolved to spend what days the Almighty may still
allot me on the broad highway of humanity. When I have found my task I
will adhere to it like a soldier."

Next morning they rode to a ridge beneath which the swollen Esk poured
through the haughlands. It was a day of flying squalls, and the great
dales of Esk and Annan lay mottled with sun-gleams and purple shadows
up to the dark hills, which, chequered with snow, defended the way to
the north. Further down Alastair's quick eye noted a commotion on the
river banks, and dark objects bobbing in the stream.

"See," he cried, "His Highness is crossing. We have steered skilfully,
for I enter Scotland by his side."

"Is that Scotland?" Johnson asked, his shortsighted eyes peering at the
wide vista.

"Scotland it is, and somewhere over yon hills lies Ramoth-Gilead."

Alastair's mind had in these last days won a certain peace, and now at
the sight of the army something quickened in him that had been dead
since the morning on the Ashbourne road. Youth was waking from its
winter sleep. The world had become coloured again, barriers were down,
roads ran into the future. Hazard seemed only hazard now and not
despair. Suddenly came the sound of wild music, as the pipers struck up
the air of "Bundle and go." The strain rose far and faint and elfin,
like a wandering wind, and put fire into his veins.

"That is the march for the road," Alastair cried. "Now I am for my own
country."

"And I for mine," said Johnson, but there was no spring in his voice.
He rubbed his eyes, peered in the direction of the music, and made as
if to unbuckle his sword. Then he thought better of it. "Nay, I will
keep the thing to nurse my memory," he said.

The two men joined hands; and Alastair, in his foreign fashion, kissed
the other on the cheek. As they mounted, a shower enveloped them, and
the landscape was blotted out, so that the two were isolated in a world
of their own.

"We are naked men," said Johnson. "Each must go up to his own
Ramoth-Gilead, but I would that yours and mine had been the same."

Then he turned his horse and rode slowly southward into the rain.



_Postscript_


Thus far Mr Derwent's papers.

With the farewell on the Cumberland moor Alastair Maclean is lost to us
in the mist. Of the nature of Ramoth-Gilead let history tell; it is too
sad a tale for the romancer. But one is relieved to know that he did
not fall at Culloden, or swing like so many on Haribee outside the
walls of Carlisle. For the Editor has been so fortunate as to discover
a further document, after a second search among Mr Derwent's archives,
a document in the handwriting of Mr Samuel Johnson himself; and there
seems to be the strongest presumption that it was addressed to Alastair
at some town in France, for there is a mention of hospitality shown one
Alan Maclean who had crossed the Channel with a message and was on the
eve of returning. There is no superscription, the letter begins "My
dear Sir," and the end is lost; but since it is headed "Gough Square,"
and contains a reference to the writer's beginning work on his great
dictionary, the date may be conjectured to be 1748. Unfortunately the
paper is much torn and discoloured, and only one passage can be given
with any certainty of correctness. I transcribe it as a memorial of a
friendship which was to colour the thoughts of a great man to his dying
day and which, we may be assured, left an impress no less indelible
upon the mind of the young Highlander.


". . . I send by your kinsman the second moiety of the loan which you
made me at our last meeting, for I assume that, like so many of your
race and politics now in France, you are somewhat in straits for money.
I do assure you that I can well afford to make the repayment, for I
have concluded a profitable arrangement with the booksellers for the
publication of an English dictionary, and have already received a
considerable sum in advance. . . .

"I will confess to you, my dear sir, that often in moments of leisure
and in quiet places, my memory traverses our brief Odyssey, and I am
moved again with fear and hope and the sadness of renunciation. You
say, and I welcome your generosity, that from me you acquired something
of philosophy; from you I am bound to reply that I learned weighty
lessons in the conduct of our mortal life. You taught me that a man can
be gay and yet most resolute, and that a Christian is not less capable
of fortitude than an ancient Stoic. The recollection of that which we
encountered together lives in me to warm my heart when it is cold, and
to restore in dark seasons my trust in my fellow men. The end was a
proof, if proof were wanted, of the vanity of human wishes, but sorrow
does not imply failure, and my memory of it will not fade till the hour
of death and the day of judgment. . . .

"I have been at some pains to collect from my friends in Oxford news of
my lady N----. You will rejoice to hear that she does well. Her
husband, who has now a better name in the shire, is an ensample of
marital decorum and treats her kindly, and she has been lately blessed
with a male child. That, I am confident, is the tidings which you
desire to hear, for your affection for that lady has long been purged
of any taint of selfishness, and you can rejoice in her welfare as in
that of a sister. But I do not forget that you have buried your heart
in that monument to domestic felicity. Our Master did not place us in
this world to win even honest happiness, but to shape and purify our
immortal souls, and sorrow must be the companion of the noblest
endeavour. Like the shepherd in Virgil you grew at last acquainted with
Love, and found him a native of the rocks. . . ."



THE END



  _Made and Printed in Great Britain,
  Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld.  London and Aylesbury._





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