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Title:      Midwinter (1923)
Author:     John Buchan
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Midwinter (1923)
Author:     John Buchan





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.



Contents

PREFACE

I.  IN WHICH A HIGHLAND GENTLEMAN MISSES HIS WAY

II.  IN WHICH A NOBLEMAN IS PERPLEXED

III.  IN WHICH PRIVATE MATTERS CUT ACROSS AFFAIRS OF STATE

IV.  MR KYD OF GREYHOUSES

V.  CHANCE-MEDLEY

VI.  INTRODUCES THE RUNAWAY LADY

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

VIII.  BROOM AT THE CROSS-ROADS

IX.  OLD ENGLAND

X.  SNOWBOUND AT THE SLEEPING DEER

XI.  NIGHT AT THE SAME: TWO VISITORS

XII.  THE HUT IN THE OAK SHAW

XIII.  JOURNEYMAN JOHN

XIV.  DUCHESS KITTY ON THE ROAD

XV.  BIDS FAREWELL TO A SCOTS LAIRD

XVI.  BIDS FAREWELL TO AN ENGLISH LADY

XVII.  ORDEAL OF HONOUR

XVIII.  IN WHICH THREE GENTLEMEN CONFESS THEIR NAKEDNESS

XIX.  RAMOTH-GILEAD

POSTSCRIPT




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.*


* 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.



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 newcomer,
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" Alistair 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 midsummer.  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?"


* The Vanity of Human Wishes, 1749--Samuel Johnson.


"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 postboy 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 churchwardens 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 goodwill 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 tonight.  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.  Tomorrow 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
foxhound 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 sheepskin 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 horse-thief.
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 dy e 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 Greyhouses 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
saddlebag 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 saddlebag 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."*


* "Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly
uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many
will start:  'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'  But
let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love
of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all
ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest."--Boswell's
Life of Johnson.


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 plough-lands, 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, flood-water
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 array'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
carthorses 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




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