Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Beth Trapaga
and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE BROWN MASK
Percy J. Brebner
Author of "Princess Maritza," "Vayenne," "A Royal Ward"
1. BRETHREN OF THE ROAD
2. BARBARA LANISON
3. GREY EYES
4. THE NUN OF AYLINGFORD
5. CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL
6. MAD MARTIN
7. KING MONMOUTH
8. SEDGEMOOR AND AFTERWARDS
9. "THE JOLLY FARMERS"
10. FATE AND THE FIDDLER
11. THE FUGITIVE AT AYLINGFORD
12. BARBARA HELPS TO CLOSE A DOOR
13. THE WAY OF ESCAPE
14. A WOMAN REBELS
15. BARBARA LANISON IN TOWN
16. PREPARED FOR SACRIFICE
17. BARBARA'S SELF-SACRIFICE
18. THE JOURNEY TO DORCHESTER
19. THE HUT IN THE WOOD
20. SCARLET HANGINGS
21. LORD ROSMORE DICTATES TERMS
22. THE LUCK OF LORD ROSMORE
23. LORD ROSMORE AS A FRIEND
24. LOVE AND FEAR
25. THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE
26. THE FLIGHT
27. OUT OF DORCHESTER
28. THE LEATHER CASE
30. ALONG THE NORTH ROAD
BRETHREN OF THE ROAD
Dismal in appearance, the painted sign over the mean doorway almost
obliterated by time and weather, there was nothing attractive about the
"Punch-Bowl" tavern in Clerkenwell. It was hidden away at the end of a
narrow alley, making no effort to vaunt its existence to the world at
large, and to many persons, even in the near neighbourhood, it was
entirely unknown. Like a gentleman to whom debauchery has brought shame
and the desire to conceal himself from his fellows, so the "Punch-Bowl"
seemed an outcast amongst taverns. Chance visitors were few, were
neither expected nor welcomed, and ran the risk of being told by the
landlady, in terms which there was no possibility of misunderstanding,
that the place was not for them. It was natural, therefore, that a
certain air of mystery should surround the house, for, although the
alley was a _cul-de-sac_, there were stories of marvellous escapes
from this trap even when the entrance was closed by a troop of soldiers,
and it was whispered that there was a secret way out from the
"Punch-Bowl" known only to the favoured few. Nor was an element of
romance wanting. The dwellers in this alley were of the poorest sort,
dirty and unkempt, picking up a precarious livelihood, pickpockets and
cutpurses--"foysters" and "nyppers" as their thieves' slang named them;
yet, through all this wretched shabbiness there would flash at intervals
some fine gentleman, richly dressed, and with the swagger of St. James's
in his gait. Conscious of the sensation he occasioned, he passed through
the alley looking strangely out of place, yet with no uncertain step. He
was a hero, not only to these ragged worshippers, but in a far wider
circle where wit and beauty moved; he knew it, gloried in it, and recked
little of the price which must some day be paid for such popularity. The
destination of these gentlemen was always the "Punch-Bowl" tavern.
Neither of a man, nor of a tavern, is it safe to judge only by the
exterior. A grim and forbidding countenance may conceal a warm heart,
even as the unprepossessing "Punch-Bowl" contained a cosy and
comfortable parlour. To-night, half a dozen fine gentlemen were enjoying
their wine, and it was evident that the landlady was rather proud of her
guests. Buxom, and not too old to forget that she had once been
accounted pretty, she still loved smartness and bright colours, was not
averse to a kiss upon occasion, and had a jest--coarse, perhaps, but
with some wit in it--for each of her customers. She knew them
well--their secrets, their love episodes, their dangers; sometimes she
gave advice, had often rendered them valuable help, but she had also a
keen eye for business. Her favours had to be paid for, and even from the
handsomest of her customers a kiss had never been known to settle a
score. The "Punch-Bowl" was no place for empty pockets, and bad luck was
rather a crime than an excuse. When it pleased her the landlady could
tell many tales of other fine gentlemen she had known and would never
see again, and she always gave the impression that she considered her
former customers far superior to her present ones. Perhaps she found the
comparison good for her business since she spoke to vain men. She had
become reminiscent this evening.
"The very night before he was taken he sat where you're sitting," she
said, pointing to one of her customers who was seated by the hearth.
"Ah! He made a good end of it did Jim o' the Green Coat; kicked off his
boots as if they were an old pair he had done with, and threw the
ordinary out of the cart, saying he had no time to waste on him just
then. I was there and saw it all."
There was silence as she concluded her glowing tale. Depression may take
hold of the most careless and light-hearted for a moment, and even the
attraction of making a good end, with an opportunity of spurning a
worthless ordinary, cannot always appeal. The landlady had contrived to
make her story vivid, and furtive glances were cast at the individual
who occupied the seat she had indicated. There suddenly appeared to be
something fatal in it and ample reason why a man might congratulate
himself on being seated elsewhere. The occupant was the least concerned.
He had taken the most comfortable place in the room; it seemed to be
rightly his by virtue of his dress and bearing. He had the grand air as
having mixed in high society, his superiority was tacitly admitted by
his companions, and the landlady had addressed herself especially to
him, as though she knew him for a man of consequence.
"When the time comes you shall see me die game, too, I warrant," he
laughed, draining his glass and passing it to be refilled. "One death is
as good as another, and at Tyburn it comes quicker than to those who lie
awaiting it in bed."
"That's true," said the landlady.
"I should hate to die in a bed," the man went on. "The open road for me
and a quick finish. It's the best life if it isn't always as long as it
might be. I wouldn't forsake it for anything the King could offer me.
It's a merry time, with romance, love and adventure in it, with plenty
to get and plenty to spend, with a seasoning of danger to give it
piquancy--a gentleman's life from cock-crow to cock-crow, and not worthy
of a passing thought is he who cannot make a good end of it. I'd sooner
have the hangman for a bosom friend than a man who is likely to whimper
on the day of reckoning. Did I tell you that a reverend bishop offered
me fifty guineas for my mare the other day?"
"You sold her?" came the question in chorus.
"Sold her! No! I told him that she would be of little use to him, since
no one but myself could get her up to a coach."
"Your impudence will be the death of you, John," laughed the landlady.
"That seems a fairly safe prophecy," answered Gentleman Jack--for so his
companions named him--"still, I've heard of one bishop who took to the
road in his leisure hours. He died of a sudden fever, it was said; but,
for all that, he returned one night from a lonely ride across Hounslow
Heath, and was most anxious to conceal the fact that somebody had put a
bullet into him. My bishop may have become ambitious--indeed, I think he
had, for he had intellect enough to understand my meaning and was not in
the least scandalised."
"Then we may yet welcome him at the 'Punch-Bowl,'" said one man. "So
far, this house has entertained no one higher in the church than a Fleet
parson. I see no sin in drinking the bishop's good health and wishing
him the speedy possession of a horse to match his ambition."
"Anyone may serve as a toast," said another; "but could a bishop be good
company under any circumstances, think you?"
"Gad! why not?" asked Gentleman Jack. "He'd Spend his time trying to
square his profession with his conscience maybe, and when a man is
reduced to that, bishop or no bishop, there's humour enough, I warrant."
The health was drunk with laughter, and the air of depression which had
followed the landlady's recital disappeared like clouds from an April
sky. Each one had some story to tell, some item to add to the
accumulated glory of the road.
"Ay, it's a merry life," said the man who had had doubts about the
bishop's company, "and the only drawback is that it comes to an end when
you're at the top of your success. The dealers in blood-money never hunt
a man down until he's worth his full price."
"And isn't that the best time to take the last ride?" exclaimed
Gentleman Jack. "Who would choose to grow old and be forgotten? What
should we do sitting stiffly in an armchair, wearing slippers because
boots hurt our poor swollen feet? What should we be without a pair of
legs strong enough to grip the saddle or with eyes too dim to recognise
a pretty woman, lacking fire to fall in love, and with lips which had
lost their zest for kissing?"
"But we come to that last ride before we lack anything--that's the
trouble," was the answer.
"Not always," said another man. "Galloping Hermit was feared on all the
roads before I had stopped my first coach, and he is still feared
to-day." The speaker was young, and he mentioned the name of the
notorious highwayman with a kind of reverence.
"They say he's the devil himself, and that's why he's never been taken,"
said another. "Did any of you ever see him?"
"Once." And they all turned quickly towards the man who spoke. "My mare
had gone lame, and I had dismounted in a copse to examine her, when
there was the quick, regular beat of hoofs at a gallop across the turf.
I was alert on my own account in a moment, crouching down amongst the
undergrowth, for with a lame animal I could have made but a poor show.
There flashed past me a splendid horseman, man and beast one perfect
piece of harmony. The moon was near the full. I saw the neat, strong
lines of the horse, the easy movement of the rider, and I could see that
the mask which the man wore was brown. This happened two years ago, out
"And without that brown mask no one knows him." said the man who had
first spoken of him. "He has been met on all the roads, north, south,
east and west--never in company, always alone. He never fails, yet the
blood-feasters have watched for him in vain. Truly, he disappears as
mysteriously as the devil might. He may go to Court. He may be a
well-known figure there, gaming with the best, a favoured suitor where
beauty smiles. He may even have been here amongst us at the 'Punch-Bowl'
without our knowing it."
"It is not impossible," Gentleman Jack admitted, smiling a little at the
"I envy him," was the answer. "We seem mean beside such a man as
"I do not cry 'Yes' to that," said Gentleman Jack, just in time to
prevent an outburst from the landlady, who appeared to fancy that the
quality of her entertainment was being called in question. "The brown
mask conceals a personality, no doubt, but before we can judge between
man and man we must know something of their various opportunities. Were
he careful and lucky, such a man as my bishop would be hard to run to
earth. Galloping Hermit is careful, for only at considerable intervals
do we hear of him. The road would seem to be a pastime with him, rather
than a life he loved. For me, the night never comes that I do not long
to be in the saddle, that I do not crave for the excitement, even if
there be no spoil worth the trouble of taking. This man is different. He
is only abroad when the quarry is certain. True, success has been his,
but for all that the fear of Tyburn may spoil his rest at night, and
when he gets there we may find that the brown mask conceals a coward
"Had you seen him that night as I did you would not say so," was the
"I like speech with a man before I judge his merits," said Gentleman
Jack, rising from his chair and flicking some dust from his sleeve. He
appeared to resent such slavish admiration of Galloping Hermit--perhaps
because he felt that his own pre-eminence was challenged. It pleased him
to think that his name must be in everyone's mouth, that his price in
the crime-market must for months past have been higher than any other
man's, and he was suddenly out of humour with the frequenters of the
"Punch-Bowl." He threw a guinea to the landlady, told her to buy a
keepsake with the change, and passed out with a careless nod, much as
though he intended never to come back into such low company.
The landlady stood fingering the guinea, turning it between her finger
and thumb, rather helping her reflections by the action than satisfying
herself that the coin was a good one.
"I believe we've had Galloping Hermit here to-night," she said suddenly.
"It was unlike Gentleman Jack to talk as he did just now. Mark my words,
he wears a brown mask on special occasions, and thought by sneering to
throw dust in our eyes. It's not the first time I have considered the
possibility, and I'm not sure that I won't buy a brown silk mask for
keepsake and slip it on when next I see him coming in at the door. That
would settle the question."
She had many arguments to support her opinion, reminded her customers of
many little incidents which had occurred in the past, recalling
Gentleman Jack's peculiar behaviour on various occasions. Her arguments
sounded convincing, and for an hour or more they discussed the question.
The opportunity to test her belief by wearing a brown silk mask never
came, however, for that same night Gentleman Jack was taken on Hounslow
Heath. A stumbling horse put him at the mercy of the man he sought to
rob, who struck him on the head with a heavy riding-whip, and when the
highwayman recovered consciousness he found himself a prisoner, bound
hand and foot. He endeavoured to bargain with his captor, and made an
attempt to outwit him, but, failing in both efforts, he accepted his
position with a good grace, determined to make the best of it. Newgate
should be proud of its latest resident. For a little space, at any rate,
he would be the hero of fashionable circles, and go to his death with
all the glamour of romance. He would leave a memory behind him that the
turnkeys might presently make stirring tales of, as they drank their
purl at night round the fire in the prison lobby.
The highwayman's story concerning the bishop quickly went the round of
the town, and a wit declared that at least half the reverend gentlemen
went trembling in their shoes for fear of their names being mentioned.
The story, and the wit's comment, served to raise the curiosity of the
fashionable world, and more than one coach stopped by Newgate to set
down beauty and its escort on a visit to the highwayman. But a greater
sensation was pending. Who first spread the report no one knew, but it
was suddenly whispered that this man was in reality no other than the
notorious wearer of the brown mask. When questioned he did not deny it,
and his evident pleasure at the mystery which surrounded him went far to
establish the story. For every person interested in Gentleman Jack, a
dozen were anxious to see and speak to Galloping Hermit. Every tale
concerning him was recalled and re-told, losing nothing in the
re-telling. Men had rather envied his adventurous career, many women's
hearts had beat faster at the mention of his name, and now the most
absurd theories regarding his real personality were seriously discussed
in coffee-houses, in boudoirs, and even at Court. It was whispered that
the King himself would intervene to save him from the gallows.
For a long time no trial had caused such a sensation, and Judge
Marriott, whose ambition it was to be likened to his learned and famous
brother, Judge Jeffreys, rose to the occasion and succeeded in giving an
excellent imitation of the bullying methods of his idol. This was an
opportunity to win fame, he argued, and he gave full play to the little
wit he possessed and ample licence to his undeniable powers of
vituperation and blasphemy.
Newgate was thronged, and the prisoner bore himself gallantly as a man
might in his hour of triumph. It was a great thing to be an object of
interest to statesmen, scholars, and wits, and to win smiles and tears
from beauty. His eyes travelled slowly over the sea of faces, and rested
for a little while upon a young girl. Her eyes were downcast, but he
thought there must be tears in them, and for a moment he was more
interested in her than in anyone else. Why had she come? She was
different from all the other women about her. Beside her sat an elderly
woman who seemed to be enjoying herself exceedingly, and appeared to
find especial relish in Judge Marriott's remarks. The more brutal they
were the more witty she seemed to think them.
As sentence was pronounced the girl rose to her feet and turned to go.
In truth, it had been no wish of hers to come. The judge, the people,
and the whole atmosphere sickened her. She longed to get away, to feel
the fresh air upon her cheek; and in her anxiety to depart she took no
particular trouble to make sure that her companion was following her.
There was a hasty crushing on all sides of her, and as she was carried
forward she became conscious that she was alone, that she was being
stared at and commented upon by some of those who were about her. She
ought not to be there, she felt it rather than knew it, and was
painfully aware that people were judging her accordingly. One man spoke
to her, and in her effort to escape his attentions she contrived to
thrust herself into a corner of an outer lobby, and waited.
"Can I be of service?"
For a moment she thought that the man she had escaped from had found
her, and she turned indignantly. The steady grey eyes that met hers were
eyes to trust--she felt that at once. This was quite a different person.
He was young, with a face grave beyond his years, and a sense of
strength about him likely to appeal to a woman.
"I am waiting for my aunt, Lady Bolsover," she said, the colour mounting
to her cheeks under his steady gaze, and then, suddenly anxious that he
should not think evil of her, she added: "I did not want to come. It was
"Your aunt must have missed you," he said, glancing round the almost
empty lobby, for the crowd had poured out into the street by this time.
"If you have a coach waiting, may I take you to it?"
The crowd was dense in the street, and their progress was slow, but the
man forced a way for her. His face gave evidence that it would be
dangerous for anyone to throw a jest at his companion. There was a
general inclination to give him the wall as he went.
"I am glad you did not come here willingly," he said suddenly, as though
no other thought had been in his mind all this time. "This is no place
for a woman."
"Indeed, no. I am wondering why a man should be here either."
"Galloping Hermit once did me a kindness. I would like to repay the
"But how? What could you do?"
"I could not tell. Something might have happened to give me an
opportunity. It did not; still, I shall see him presently. Perhaps I may
yet be able to do him some small service."
"Oh, I hope so, poor man," she answered. "There is the coach, and my
aunt. She will thank you."
Lady Bolsover, who was talking to Lord Rosmore, did not appear agitated,
but she hurried forward when she caught sight of her niece.
"My child, I have been consumed with anxiety, and--"
"This gentleman--" the girl began, and then stopped. The man had not
followed her as she went to meet her aunt. He had disappeared.
There came no intervention on the prisoner's behalf in the days that
followed, nor did he set up any plea for his life on the ground of
knowing of plots against the King's Majesty. This would be to shirk the
day of reckoning, and he had boasted to his companions at the
"Punch-Bowl" that they should see him play the game to the end. He would
fulfil this promise to the letter. He had ridden up Holborn Hill scores
of times, seeking spoil and adventure on Hounslow Heath or elsewhere; he
would journey up it once more, and pay the price like a gentleman. It
would be no lonely journey; there would be excitement and triumph in it.
He had lived his life and enjoyed it; he had allowed nothing to stand in
the way of his desires; he had pressed into a few short years far more
satisfaction than any other career could have given him. Why should he
whimper because the end came early? It would be a good end to make, full
of movement and colour. He knew, for he had been a spectator when others
had taken that journey, and he was of more importance than they were.
The whole town was ringing with his fame. Why should he have regrets?
Beauty and fashion came to visit him, and one man came to thank him for
some former kindness, a trivial matter that the highwayman had thought
nothing of and had forgotten.
It came, that last morning, a fine morning flushed with the new life of
the world that trembles hesitatingly in the spring of the year, and
steeps the hearts of men and women with stronger hope and wider
ambition; such a morning as draws a veil over past failures and
disappointments, and floods the future with success and achievement. It
seemed a pity to have to die on such a morning, and for one moment there
was regret in the highwayman's soul as he took his place in the cart.
The next he braced himself to play his part, for there were great crowds
in the streets, waiting and making holiday. All eyes were turned,
watching for the procession, for was it not Galloping Hermit who came,
the notorious wearer of the brown mask, the hero of wealth and squalor
alike, the man whose deeds had already passed into legend? No one
thought of him as Gentleman Jack, not even his companions of the
"Punch-Bowl" who were in the crowd to see him pass; not the landlady,
who had come to see the last of him, and stood at the end of the
journey, waiting and watching.
By the steps of St. Sepulchre's Church there was a pause. A woman, one
of a frail sisterhood, yet strangely pretty and innocent to look upon,
held up a great nosegay to the hero of the hour, and as he took it he
bent down and kissed her.
"Don't let another's kiss make you forget this one too soon," he said
gaily, and her lips smiled while there was a sob in her throat.
The cart jogged on again, and at intervals the man buried his face in
the flowers. This was his hour, and if he had any fear or regret, there
were no eyes keen enough to note the fact.
Tyburn and its fatal tree were in sight across a surging crowd. Even at
the last moment the King might intervene, it was whispered, and there
were some who looked for signs of a swift-coming messenger. But the cart
came nearer, slowly and surely; the space round the gallows was kept
clear with difficulty, and there was no sign of hurrying reprieve.
This was the end of the game. Now was the great test of courage. He was
too great a man to indulge in small things to prove it.
"I've been used to riding in the night; a morning ride tires one," he
said carelessly. "Let's get it over, or I shall be getting hungry, as
all these folks must be. There's a good pair of boots for anyone who has
the courage to wear them. I'm ready. Make an end of it."
And the landlady at the "Punch-Bowl" that night drank to his memory,
declaring that he had died game, as was fitting for a gentleman of the
As the coach rolled heavily homewards towards St. James's Square, Lady
Bolsover speedily recovered from her anxiety concerning her niece; she
did not even reprimand her for getting lost in the crowd, and seemed to
take no interest whatever in the gentleman who had come to the rescue
and had not waited to be thanked. He could have been no person of
consequence, or he would not have neglected the opportunity of bowing
over her hand. She talked of nothing but the trial and the excellent
manner in which her friend Judge Marriott had conducted it. Some of his
witticisms she remembered and repeated with such excellent point that
her niece shuddered again as she had done when they fell from the
"It was altogether horrible," said the girl. "I wonder why you made me
"Judge Marriott's wit horrible!" exclaimed Lady Bolsover. "Pray do not
say so in company, or you will be taken for a fool."
"I meant the trial--the whole thing. Why did we go?"
"Would you be altogether out of the fashion, Barbara?"
"Such fashion, yes, I think so."
"Ah, that's the drawback of living in the country," was the answer. "All
one's morals and manners smell of the soil, and a woman's attainments
are limited to the making of gooseberry wine and piecrusts. I was of
that pattern myself once, but, thank heaven! I married wisely and
escaped from it. You must do the same, Barbara."
"Indeed, I am not sure that I want to, and yet--"
"I am grateful for the reservation," said Lady Bolsover, "or I should be
compelled to think that all my care of you during these last few months
had been wasted."
"Oh, no; I have learnt many things--many things that it is good for me
to know. I have seen men and women who seem to live in another world to
the one I have knowledge of, a large and most interesting world, truly,
yet not altogether to my taste. Is it not a strange world that can enjoy
what we have witnessed to-day?"
"I must confess I enjoyed Judge Marriott hugely," was the answer, "and
the prisoner was a man, I'll say that for him. I almost regret not
having had the honour of being stopped by him. I grant you he was
interesting, and played his part gallantly."
"Doomed to die on the gallows! Do you call that playing a part?"
"My dear," and Lady Bolsover touched the girl's arm, "did I not know
your ancestry I should imagine your father a scurvy Puritan and your
mother a kitchen wench given to long hymns and cant of a Sunday. Are you
sure this cavalier of yours was not some miserable sniveller who found
time to favour you with a sermon? He disappeared so hastily that it
would seem he was ashamed of himself."
The girl did not answer, and if the colour came into her cheeks at the
memory of what the man had said to her, Lady Bolsover was too amused at
her own conjecture to notice it.
There are those who are so intent upon living that they have little time
to think. Lady Bolsover was of these. The hour that did not hold some
excitement in it wearied her and made her petulant. Her husband, dead
these ten years, had been amongst the enthusiastic welcomers of Charles
at his Restoration, and his wife had from first to last been a
well-known figure in the Court of the Merry Monarch. That she was no
beauty, rather than because she possessed any great strength of
character, probably accounted for the fact that she enjoyed no peculiar
fame in that dissolute company. As she could not be the heroine of an
intrigue, it pleased her to consider herself too great a dame for such
affairs, and she was fully persuaded that she might count her lovers by
the score, even now, had she so desired. As she had no very definite
character, so she had no real convictions. Charles was dead, and James
was King. Many changes were imminent, and Lady Bolsover was waiting to
see in which direction the wind blew. Her nature, perhaps, was to hate
Puritans and all their ways, but, if necessary to her own well-being,
she would easily be able to love them and curse all Catholics. She was
not really bad at heart, but she was a strange companion for Barbara
Some few months ago Sir John Lanison, of Aylingford Abbey in Hampshire,
Lady Bolsover's brother and Barbara's uncle and sole guardian since the
death of her parents, had suggested that his sister should take charge
of his ward for a little while. Practically she knew nothing of London,
he said, and it was time she did. Sir John declared that he did not want
it to be said that he had hidden his niece away at the Abbey so that no
man should have a chance of seeing her. He had known prettier women, but
she was well enough, and where her face failed to attract her ample
"She's got more learning than is needful for a girl, to my mind," he
told his sister; "but that kind of nonsense will be knocked out of her
as soon as she understands her value as a woman. Send her back with all
the corners rounded, my dear Peggy--that is what I want."
Lady Bolsover had done her best, but the result was not very
satisfactory. Barbara had convictions which her aunt was powerless to
undermine, and seemed to set such a value upon herself that no man was
able to make the slightest impression on her. She had barely refrained
from laughing outright at the compliments of recognised wits, and half a
dozen gallants with amorous intentions had been baffled and put to
shame. Lord Rosmore, whose way with a woman was pronounced irresistible,
had declared her adorable, but impossible, and Judge Marriott had
promised Lady Bolsover a very handsome gratuity if she could persuade
her niece to favour him and become his wife.
Barbara Lanison could not be unconscious of the sensation she caused--a
woman never is--but she sometimes studied the reflection in her mirror,
and tried to discover the reason. Quite honestly she failed. She was not
dissatisfied with the reflection, in its way it was pleasing, she
admitted, but she had not supposed that it was of the kind that would
appeal to men, and to such a variety of men. The women who usually
pleased them were so different. It even occurred to her that there might
be something in herself, in her behaviour, which was not quite nice, and
that her real attraction lay in this, an idea which proved that her
estimate of the men who came to her aunt's house was not a very high
Born and bred in the country, and with an amount of learning which her
uncle considered unnecessary, she had prejudices, no doubt, and possibly
had a standard of female beauty in her mind which her own reflection did
not satisfy. That she was mistaken in her own estimate of herself was
certain, or the men would not have been so assiduous in their
attentions. Perhaps she admired dark women, and the reflection which
smiled at her out of the depths of the mirror was fair. The eyes were
blue--that blue which the sky shows in the early morning of a cloudless
day, and there was a suggestion of tears in them--the tears which may
come from much laughter rather than those which speak of sorrow. There
was a touch of gold in the fair hair, which was inclined to be
rebellious and curl into little lovelocks about her neck and forehead.
The skin was fair, with the bloom of perfect health upon it, and the
little mouth was firm, the lips fresh as from the kiss of a rose. There
was grace in all her movements, that unstudied grace which tells of life
in the open air and freedom from restraint; and in thought and word and
deed conventionality had small interest for her. It was hardly wonderful
that Lord Rosmore should pronounce her adorable, or that Judge Marriott
should forget that his youth was a thing of the past. Indeed, she had
come as a revelation to the men whose lives were made up of Court
intrigue and artificiality.
Perhaps another reason why Barbara Lanison found it difficult to
understand the sensation she created lay in the fact that her heart and
affections remained entirely untouched. Those blue eyes, underneath
their long lashes, saw very keenly, and gave her a quick insight into
character. She was not to be easily led, and if she did a good many
things in her aunt's house, where she was a guest, which did not come
naturally to her and which did not please her, there was a point beyond
which no persuasion on Lady Bolsover's part could make her go. Much
against her will she had been taken to the trial of the highwayman, and
that she was ashamed of being there was shown by her eager desire to
explain her presence to the man who had come to her rescue in the crowd.
It would probably have annoyed Lady Bolsover considerably had she known
that her niece thought more of this man during the next few days than of
all the eligible gallants who had been brought to her notice.
If in one sense Lady Bolsover had to admit failure with regard to her
plans concerning her niece, in another direction she had achieved
considerable success, for since the advent of Barbara Lanison her own
favour had been courted on all sides, and her house in St. James's
Square had become a little Court in itself. To half a dozen men who had
flattered her sufficiently as a first step towards her good graces, she
had promised to do her best with her niece on their behalf, and at
intervals she dispensed encouragements for which no action or private
word of Barbara's gave any foundation. Lady Bolsover found her present
_entourage_ very pleasant, and was not inclined to spoil it by being
too definitely honest. It was therefore with considerable chagrin
that, a few days after the trial, she received a message from her
brother that Barbara was to return to Aylingford Abbey without delay;
and since Judge Marriott was about to pay him a visit, nothing could be
better than that Barbara should travel in his company.
Barbara was quite ready to return to the Abbey, but she did not relish
Judge Marriott as a travelling companion. He was old enough to be her
father, and foolish enough to attempt to make love to her. She had
disliked him from the first; she had come near to hating him since she
had seen and heard him at that dreadful trial. The self-satisfied judge,
on the other hand, hoped to make capital out of the trial. He had been
instrumental in ridding the world of a notorious highwayman, one who had
made himself unpleasantly known to not a few of those who were Sir
John's guests from time to time. The trial would be much talked of at
Aylingford, and Marriott could not fail to be a centre of attraction.
His acumen must also have appealed to the woman whose escort he was to
be. His conduct of the case must have impressed her with his importance.
She was the most beautiful woman with whom he had ever been brought into
contact, and his ambition took to itself wings. Why should not this
woman belong to him? True, he had no family behind him to boast of, but
he had made a position, and the way to greater things lay open before
him. Jeffreys was his friend, and Jeffreys was a power with the new
King. High honours might be in the near future for Judge Marriott. He
was an ugly man--with all his willingness to do so, he could not gainsay
that; but he consoled himself with the reflection that many beautiful
women had married men whose looks certainly did not recommend them. It
was only the commonplace that women turned from, and he was sufficiently
ugly not to be commonplace.
So Judge Marriott exerted himself to amuse and interest his fair young
charge as they journeyed together into Hampshire, and not altogether
without success. He soon discovered that all discussion concerning the
trial was unwelcome, that the girl's foolish sympathies had been with
the prisoner rather than the judge, and he quickly talked of other
things. He almost made Barbara believe that he regretted Nature had not
made him a highwayman instead of a judge, and he certainly succeeded in
making the girl confess to herself that he was not such an unpleasant
travelling companion as she had expected.
The day had been cloudy, threatening rain, and twilight came early. When
the coach began to cross Burford Heath it was dusk. Barbara was tired,
and leaned back in her corner, while the judge lapsed into silence, not
altogether oblivious to the fact that there might be dangers upon the
heath. The road was heavy, and in places deep-rutted; the grinding and
crunching of the wheels, the only sound breaking the stillness of the
evening, grew monotonous; and the constant heavy jolting was trying.
Suddenly there was a cry from the post-boys, and the coach came to a
standstill with a jerk.
"Curse them! They've managed to break down!" exclaimed Marriott. His
hand trembled a little as he let down the window, and it seemed to
Barbara that he was more afraid than angry. He thrust his head out of
the window with an oath, then drew it in sharply. A horseman stood at
the door with a pistol in his hand.
"There is payment to make for crossing the heath."
The judge broke out into a torrent of abuse, but whether at the man who
barred his way or at himself for being unprepared, it was difficult to
"And the payment is extra for cursing your luck, especially in the
presence of a lady," said the man sharply, in a tone which admitted no
argument and proved him master of the situation.
Barbara, sitting upright, looked steadily into the masked face of the
highwayman, deeply interested, but without fear. Was it fancy, or was
there a familiar note in the man's voice? Marriott had shrunk back in
the coach as he fumbled for his purse. He tried to conceal his face from
the man, for, should the highwayman discover his identity, he might
consider the moment opportune to avenge his brother of the road who had
so recently died at Tyburn.
"A meagre purse for so famous a judge," the man said, weighing it in his
hand; "but your money is a small matter. I have a bigger score to settle
than that. Out with you!" and the man flung open the coach door.
Marriott shrank farther back until he appeared a very small and mean man
in the corner of the coach. He tried to speak, but his words were
inarticulate, and Barbara could feel him trembling violently.
"Get out, or--"
"Surely, sir, you would not kill him?" and Barbara stretched out an arm
to protect him.
"Do you plead for him, mistress? He is lucky to have such an advocate.
Get out, judge. For the sake of those bright eyes beside you, you may
keep your life, but you shall do penance for your sins. Get out, I say."
Very reluctantly Marriott crept from the carriage.
"You have all my money," he whimpered.
"Down on your knees, then, and ask pardon for passing judgment on a
better man than yourself. Down! Quickly, or this pistol of mine may
forget that I have made a promise."
Marriott sank upon his knees in a place where the road was very muddy.
"The man I sent to Tyburn--say it after me."
"The man I sent to Tyburn," repeated Marriott.
"--was a gentleman compared to me."
"--was a gentleman compared to me."
"I am an unjust judge, a scoundrel at heart, a mean, contemptible
coward, unfit to consort with honest men, and every pure, good woman
should spurn me like dirt. Say it! Louder! The lady should be interested
in your confession."
Marriott said the words, raising his voice as he was ordered.
"And I pray to Heaven to have pity on the soul of the man I sent to his
death at Tyburn. Say it aloud, with uplifted hands. It is a prayer you
may well make, for, God knows, you'll have need of all His mercy some
The prayer was repeated, and so like a real prayer was it that, in the
darkness of the coach, Barbara smiled. Prayer and Judge Marriott seemed
so wide asunder.
"Now get back into the coach, and take care your muddy clothes do not
soil the lady's gown, as your presence could hardly fail to be
pestilential to her, did she but know you as you really are. Good-night,
fair mistress; some day I hope to see you under better escort."
For a moment he bowed low over his horse's neck, then he turned and
galloped straight across the heath.
Judge Marriott had entered the coach hurriedly, so glad to escape from
the highwayman that he did not consider how poor a figure he had cut in
the sight of the girl. Fearful that his tormentor might not yet have
done with him, he sank back in his corner again. Barbara was sitting
forward looking from the window.
"He has gone," she said.
"Curse him!" said Marriott in a whisper. He was still afraid, and his
voice trembled. "Surely his mask was--"
"It was brown," said Barbara. "I thought the man who wore the brown mask
"I thought so too," he muttered as he leaned forward to the window and
watched the highwayman disappear into the shadows of the night.
Where a stream, running through a wide track of woodland, turned to flow
round three sides of a plateau of rising ground, a community of
Cistercian monks had long ago founded their home. Possibly the original
building was of small dimensions, but as the wealth of the community
increased it had been enlarged from time to time, and, it would appear,
with an ever-increasing idea of comfort. Of this completed building as
the monks knew it, a large part remained, some of it in a more or less
ruinous state it is true, but much of it incorporated in the work of
those subsequent builders who had succeeded in converting Aylingford
Abbey into one of the most picturesque residences in Hampshire. It faced
away from the stream, and the long, massive front, besides being the
most modern part of the building, was the least interesting aspect;
indeed, it was difficult to get a comprehensive view of it, because the
woods approached so closely that the traveller came upon it almost
unawares. From every other side the outlines of the Abbey were
singularly beautiful. Here a small spire sharply cut the sky, or a
graceful point of roof told of a chapel or high-pitched hall; there,
half frowning, half friendly, a mass of creeper-clad, grey wall looked
capable of withstanding a siege. In some places solid pieces of masonry
spoke of comparatively recent improvement, while towards one end of the
building walls had crumbled, leaving ruined chambers open to wind and
weather. There were open casements, through which one might catch a
glimpse of comfort within, and again there were narrow slits, deeply
sunk into thick walls, through which fancy might expect to hear the moan
of some prisoner in a dungeon.
As it swept round the Abbey the stream broadened out, and its current
became almost imperceptible. On one side the bank was comparatively low,
but on the Abbey side a stone wall had been built up from the water.
Above this was a broad terrace, flanked by the top of the wall, which
rose some three or four feet above it, and into which seats had been cut
at intervals. This terrace ran round three sides of the Abbey, and was
mostly of stone flags, worn and green with age, but in some places there
were stretches of trimly-kept grass. Two stone bridges arched and dipped
from the terrace to the opposite bank of the stream. Wonderful vistas of
the surrounding country were to be seen from the vantage ground of the
terrace; here a peep through a sylvan glade to the blue haze of the
hills beyond; there a glimpse of the roofs of the village of Aylingford,
a mile away; and again a deep, downward view into dark woods, where
mystery seemed to dwell, and perhaps fear, and out of which came the
sound of running and of falling water.
It was not difficult to believe in the legends which the simple country
folk told of Aylingford, and they were many. Had some old monk come
suddenly out of the wood, over the bridge, and walked in meditation
along the terrace, he would hardly have looked strange or out of place
so long as a bevy of Sir John's visitors had not chanced to meet him. It
seemed almost natural that when the night was still the echoes of old
prayer and chant should still be heard, as folk said they were. Sir John
himself had heard such sounds, so he affirmed, and would not have his
belief explained away by the fact that the wind found much to make music
with in the ruins. Then there were rooms which never seemed to be
unoccupied; corridors where you felt that someone was always walking a
little way in front of you or had turned the corner at the end the
moment before; stairs upon which could be heard descending footsteps;
doors which you did not remember to have noticed before. But while of
legend there was plenty, of history there was little. It would appear
that the monks had forsaken their home even before the Reformation, for
the first Lanison had acquired in the Eighth Henry's reign a property
"long fallen into ruinous decay," according to an old parchment.
Possibly the writer of this description had not seen the Abbey,
trusting, perchance, to the testimony of a man who had not seen it
either, for certainly much of the present building was in existence
then, and could hardly have been as ruinous as the parchment would lead
one to suppose. It may be that Aylingford, lying in the depth of the
country, away from the main road, escaped particular notice, and this
might also account for the fact that it had never attracted the
attention of Cromwell's men, which it reasonably might have done, seeing
that the Lanisons were staunch for the King.
Since old Sir Rupert Lanison had first come to Aylingford, Lanisons had
always been masters there--indifferent ones at times, as at intervals
they had proved indifferent subjects, yet reverenced by the country
Sir John, in the course of time, had become the head of the house of his
ancestors, proud of his position, punctilious as to his rights,
superstitious, and a believer in the legends of his home. He had married
twice, losing each wife within a year of his wedding day, and had no
child to succeed him. His brother, who had gone abroad ready to serve
where-ever there was fighting to be done, had also married. His wife
died young, too, and her daughter Barbara had come as a child to
Aylingford. She did not remember her father, who subsequently died in
the East Indies, leaving his child and a great fortune to the care of
So the Abbey and the woods which surrounded it had been Barbara's world
for eighteen years, for only once had she been to London before her
visit to Lady Bolsover. In a measure this second visit was unhappily
timed, for the death of King Charles had cast a gloom over the capital,
and the accession of his brother James caused considerable apprehension
in the country. Still, Barbara had created a certain sensation, and,
according to Lady Bolsover, would have made a great match had not Sir
John foolishly recalled her to the Abbey.
"She was just getting free from pastry and home-made wine, and my
brother must needs plunge her back into them," Lady Bolsover declared to
her friends, who were neither so numerous nor so distinguished now that
Barbara had left St. James's Square.
Sir John had welcomed his niece, but had given no reason for bringing
her home. She did not expect one. She had been away a long while; it was
natural she should be home again, and she was glad. There was no real
regret in her mind that she had left London; yet, somehow, life was
different, and although she had been home nearly a week there was
something which kept her from settling down into the old routine.
"Why is it? What is it? I wonder."
She was sitting on one of the stone seats cut in the wall of the
terrace, leaning back to look across the woods. The morning sun flooded
this part of the terrace with golden light, the perfume of flowers was
heavy in the air. From the woods came a great song of birds; in the
water below her a fish jumped at intervals--a cool sound on a hot day.
She had this part of the terrace to herself for a little while, but from
another part, round an angle of the house, came the murmur of voices and
sometimes laughter, now a man's, now a woman's. It had all been just the
same before, many, many times, yet now the girl was conscious of a sound
of discord in it. Nothing had really changed. The Abbey was full of
guests, as her uncle loved to have it, many of the same guests who came
so constantly, many of those who had been her companions at Lady
Bolsover's, and yet the world seemed changed somehow. The reason must
lie in herself. Her visit to London had brought enlightenment to her,
although she had only a vague idea of its meaning. She found it
difficult not to shrink from some of her uncle's guests, a feeling she
had not experienced until now. True, she had been brought more in
contact with them during this last week than she had previously been.
They treated her differently, no longer as a child, but as one of
themselves. They spoke more freely, both the men and women, and it
seemed to Barbara that only now was she beginning to understand them,
and that it was this wider knowledge which made her shrink from them.
"I have become a woman; before I was only a girl--that must be the
reason," she said, resting her chin on her clasped hands and looking
down into the depths of the wood on the opposite side of the stream. "I
have been very happy as a child, I do not believe I am going to be happy
as a woman," and then she glanced towards the distant blue hills. The
world was full of sunlight, even though the woods below her were dark
She looked along the terrace to make certain that no one was coming to
disturb her--and she smiled to think how often she was disturbed in
these days. Judge Marriott had only to catch sight of her, and he would
leave any companion--man or woman--to hurry after her. At first he
seemed only intent on proving to her that he had not really been afraid
of the highwayman on Burford Heath, not on his own account at least,
only on hers; but presently he began to praise her, stammering over
high-flown compliments concerning her eyes or her hair, and looking
ridiculously distressed as he uttered them. He made her laugh until she
understood that he was making love to her, then she was angry. All
yesterday he was sighing to be forgiven.
Then there was Sir Philip Branksome, who twice within the last three
days had endeavoured to impress upon her the fact that his attentions
were a very great honour. He was so sure of himself in this particular
that it was almost impossible to despise him. There was Sydney Fellowes,
too, near kinsman to my Lord Halifax, full of boyish enthusiasm, now for
some warrior, now for some poet, chiefly for Mr. Herrick, whose poems he
knew by heart and repeated sympathetically. In Barbara Lanison he
professed to find the ideal woman, the inspiration which, he declared,
warrior and poet alike must have; and for hours together he would
explain how debased he was, how exalted was she. He wrote verses to her,
breathing these sentiments, and appeared to touch the height of his
ambition for a moment when she deigned to listen to them. Barbara felt
herself so much older than he was that she only stopped him when he grew
too persistent, neither laughing at him nor despising him. She praised
his verses which really had merit, but she would not understand that she
had inspired them. And last evening Lord Rosmore had arrived, had bowed
low over her hand and whispered a compliment. His looks, his attitude,
had occasioned comment, for my Lord Rosmore seldom sought, he was so
consistently sought after. Had not King Charles once called him the
handsomest attraction of his acquaintance, and laughingly turned to warn
a bevy of beauties of the danger of running after so well favoured a
"It is all because I am a woman," said Barbara, with a little sigh. "I
suppose I ought to be happy, proud, pleased; and yet--"
She looked across the woods, far away into the blue distance where fancy
well might have its kingdom, and her thoughts became a day-dream. That
she was a woman, that the horizon of her mind had widened, that in
touching the great world she had understood things which before were a
sealed book to her, did not altogether account for the change. In her
day-dream she was conscious of a pair of grey eyes which seemed to look
into her soul; conscious of a voice--kindly, yet with something stern in
it--saying in her ear: "Can I be of service?" and again, "This is no
place for a woman."
It was strange that she should remember so vividly; strange, too, that
he had gone from her so quickly. Why had he done so? Who was he? Such
questions brought another in their train. Why had the voice of the
highwayman with the brown mask seemed familiar? She tried to remember
the exact figure of the man who had come to her rescue at Newgate, her
fair brow frowning a little with the endeavour, but only the look in his
eyes and the sound of his voice remained. Somehow the highwayman's voice
had seemed unnatural.
The opening and closing of a door startled her, and she turned quickly
to see her uncle crossing the terrace.
"It is surprising to find you alone in these days, Barbara. London has
worked marvels, and it would seem that you have become a reigning toast,
Such is the news that has filtered down to Aylingford."
"That may be my misfortune; it is certainly none of my choice," was her
"And she has grown as quick at repartee as the best of them," laughed
Sir John, touching her shoulder lightly with approval. His laugh was a
pleasant one, his face kindly, his pose rather graceful, in spite of the
fact that his increasing bulk gave him anxiety. Report declared that his
youth had had wild passages, that one episode in his career had led to a
duel in which Sir John had killed his man, and it was whispered at the
time that justice and honour had gone down before the better
swordsmanship of a libertine. But this was years ago, before he was
master of Aylingford Abbey, and was forgotten now. Sir John Lanison of
Aylingford seemed to have nothing in common with that young roysterer of
long ago, and to-day there was no more popular man in this corner of
"Indeed, I had to run away to be alone this morning," Barbara went on.
"I saw Judge Marriott go into the woods yonder not long since, and I
warrant he is looking for me."
"And Branksome, and Fellowes, and half a dozen more--they are always
seeking you," said Sir John, with mock consternation. "I am to have my
hands full, it seems, looking after my niece. It might have been better
if I had kept her at the Abbey."
"In my absence I have seen enough of men to make me careful about
falling in love with one."
"Still, it must needs be with a man if you fall in love at all," said
her uncle, seating himself on the stone seat beside her, "and there is
something I want to say on this matter, Barbara. It is well that you
should have seen something of the town, but it is not a good place in
which to judge men."
"And around Aylingford I know of no men worth troubling about," said
Barbara, "so it would seem that I am on the high road to dying a
"Never was woman more unlikely to do that than you," answered Sir John.
"When a young girl talks like that, an old campaigner like myself begins
to wonder in which direction her heart has fluttered. No woman ever yet
regarded being a spinster with complacency, and few women jest about it
unless they are satisfied there is no danger. Is there a confession to
be made, Barbara?"
"None. Except for you and Martin Fairley, all men are--well, just men,
and of little interest to me. It is certain I cannot marry my uncle, and
I am not likely to fall in love with Martin, am I? By the way, where is
Martin? I have not seen him since I returned to the Abbey."
"I met him just a week ago, here on the terrace, with his fiddle under
his arm. He was starting to tramp to the other end of the county, he
told me, to play at a village wedding."
"Poor Martin!" said the girl.
"Mad Martin, rather," said Sir John; "and yet not so mad that he has not
had a certain effect upon us all, and upon you most of all. Ever since
you were a child he has been your willing slave, and he has taught you
many things out of that strange brain of his. I sometimes fancy that he
has made you look upon life differently from the way in which most women
look upon it, has filled it with more romance than it can hold, and
taken out of it much that is real."
"In fact, made me as mad as he is," laughed Barbara.
"I am not jesting," Sir John said gravely. "You have come back to the
Abbey a woman. You are more beautiful than I thought you were. You have
made something of a sensation. You say you have no confession to make."
"That I have no confession to make is true, and for the other items I am
glad I please you."
"But you do not please me," returned Sir John. "I should have been more
gratified had you made a confession. I have no son, Barbara."
She put her hand upon his arm in a quick caress, full of sympathy,
knowing how sore a trouble this was to him.
"So you see my interests are centred in you," he went on after a
moment's pause which served to intensify the meaning in his words. "One
of those interests--indeed, the chiefest of them--is your marriage. It
must be a wise marriage, Barbara, one worthy of a Lanison. Have you
never thought of it at all?"
"And yet it is time."
"Yesterday I was a child," she answered, her eyes looking towards the
distant hills. A pair of grey eyes seemed to be watching her.
"You were born before your mother was your age," Sir John answered. "I
was prepared to look with favour upon any man on whom your choice had
fallen. It has fallen on no one, you say."
"I have said so. We must wait a little while. I am very happy as I am."
"I have been thinking for you," said her uncle.
"You mean--Surely you don't want me to marry Judge Marriott?"
"No, Barbara," and he smiled. "I am too young myself yet to care for the
judge as a nephew."
"Ah! We are talking absurdly, aren't we?" she said, and although she
laughed she still looked towards the distant hills. "Of course, I could
never marry a man I didn't love, and to have a man chosen for you would
naturally prevent your loving him, wouldn't it?"
"To advise is not to force, Barbara."
"Who is the man you have thought of?" she asked.
"You cannot guess?"
"Has he grey eyes and a low, strong voice and--"
"Grey eyes!" said Sir John, glancing at her sharply.
"Grey eyes--yes." She had spoken dreamily, only half conscious that she
had put thoughts into words. Now she laughed and went on gaily, "I have
always thought I should like to marry a man with grey eyes. Girls get
fancies like that sometimes. Foolish, isn't it?"
Sir John lifted his shoulders a little as though the point were too
trivial to discuss, and he tried to remember what coloured eyes young
Sydney Fellowes had.
"I am not sure whether Lord Rosmore's eyes are grey or not; I rather
think they are," he said slowly.
Laughter sounded along the terrace, and several people came towards
them, Lord Rosmore and Sydney Fellowes amongst them.
"If his eyes are grey, they are not the shade I like," said Barbara
decidedly, and as Sir John rose she turned and walked along the terrace
in the opposite direction. If her uncle were annoyed at her action he
did not show it as he went to meet his guests.
"I was taking a quiet half-hour to discuss matters with the châtelaine
of the Abbey," he said. "She will worry over small details more than is
"Perhaps if I go and read her some new verses it will soothe her," said
"Better wait a more convenient season, unless you would have some of the
servants for your audience," laughed Sir John, as he turned to walk with
Rosmore. "You would find her engaged with them, and domesticities go ill
"Plagued ill with the poetry Fellowes writes," said Branksome; "is that
not true, Mistress Dearmer?"
"I am no judge, since Mr. Fellowes has never made verses for me,"
answered the lady.
"So facile a poet may remedy that on the instant," said Branksome.
"Come, Master Rhymster, there's a kiss from the reddest lips I know
waiting as payment for a stanza."
"They are kisses which are not at your disposal," answered the lady, but
she looked at Fellowes.
"Gad! I believe you may have the kiss without the trouble of earning it,
Fellowes," laughed Branksome. "I can go bail for the goods."
Mistress Dearmer pouted, but the laugh was against her until Fellowes
came to the rescue.
"You shall have a sonnet," he said. "You may pay if you think it
Another woman caught Sir Philip's hand and whispered, "The poetry could
hardly be so bad as the kisses are cheap, could it?"
Lord Rosmore and his host had walked to the end of the terrace talking
"I should have said more, but you came to interrupt us," Sir John
replied in answer to a question from his companion.
"You can force her to do as you wish," said Rosmore. "Indeed, if
necessary, you must."
"You are her guardian. If your powers are limited, that is no reason you
should tell her so."
"You seem strangely doubtful about your own powers, Rosmore, yet rumour
has it that few women are proof against you."
"She may be one of the few, that is why you have spoken to her. I want
her more than I have ever wanted anything on earth. You--well, if all
else fails, you must force her to marry me."
"There is another alternative," and Sir John stopped and drew himself up
"I don't think you would take it," Rosmore answered carelessly. "I
should not advise you to take it."
"She spoke of grey eyes," said Sir John, as though he were disinclined
to argue the point. "She has thought of some man with grey eyes."
"Tell me all she said--it may be useful," and for some minutes Rosmore
listened attentively while Sir John talked.
"I have more than one way of wooing," Rosmore said presently, "and my
love must condone them all. The siege shall begin forthwith. A man may
win any woman if he is subtle enough; in that conviction lies the secret
of the success with which rumour credits me. I may persuade your niece
to believe my eyes are grey, or perchance charm her into hating grey
eyes henceforth. Where shall I find her, Sir John?"
"Probably in the Nun's Room."
"No place for so desirable a lady, and surely a strange room to have in
Aylingford Abbey," laughed Rosmore. "There are many strange things about
Aylingford which Mistress Barbara must never discover."
Sir John laughed, a forced laugh with a curse underneath it, and his
hands tightened a little as he watched his guest go quickly along the
THE NUN OF AYLINGFORD
Before she had taken many steps Barbara regretted that she had not
remained with her uncle. Lord Rosmore must have said something to Sir
John, and would guess that they had been talking about him; it would
have been better to have stayed and shown him by her manner how
distasteful the subject was to her. But she did not turn back. If she
had missed an opportunity, it was certain that many more would be given
her. She even began to wonder whether she really disliked Lord Rosmore;
he had certainly given her no definite cause. In London he had not
attempted to pay her any marked attention, and last night, when he had
bent low over her hand, was the first time there had been anything
noticeable in his behaviour. She liked him better--far better--than
Judge Marriott; Sydney Fellowes hardly counted, and there was no other
man whose coming had pleased her or whose departure had caused her a
single regret. The man who had come to her help at Newgate was a shadow,
a dream. Only curiosity could account for her remembering him. Indeed,
it was doubtful if she did really remember him; were she to meet him she
would probably not know him again. No, she had no ground for disliking
Lord Rosmore. She did not dislike him, but, since he had been chosen for
her, there was ample reason why she could never love him. Any woman
would naturally hate the man she was commanded to love.
She turned from the terrace and, passing through a low doorway from
which the door had gone long ago, entered a wide space enclosed by
ruinous and moss-grown walls. It was open to the sky and littered with
_débris_. At one end the blocked-up entrance from the present house
was distinctly visible; at the other a small door, deeply sunk into the
massive masonry, gave entrance to a small round tower or bastion, which
rose some feet above the walls and overhung the terrace. The tower had
escaped ruin, almost accidentally it would seem, for there were no signs
of any particular care having been expended upon it. This open space had
evidently been chiefly occupied by a large hall, its floor a little
lower than the terrace level, but adjoining the tower end of it there
had been other rooms, for traces of stone steps could be seen in the
wall. In one corner, too, there had been a room below the level of the
floor--indeed, some of the stone flags still projected over it. Its
walls, strong and dungeon-like, were built down some fifteen feet; two
or three narrow slits piercing the outer wall in a sharp upward angle
had evidently given this buried chamber a dim light, and the entrance to
it could only have been from the top, probably by a trap door. Some
_débris_ had fallen into it, but not very much, and creepers had sown
themselves and, climbing over part of the walls to the top, had spread
themselves over a portion of the floor of the hall.
Barbara picked her way across the fallen _débris_ and stood looking
down into this hole for a few minutes. It seemed to possess a certain
fascination for her, as though it were in some way connected with her
history. Then she went to the small door in the tower. It was locked,
and although she knocked several times, and stood back to look up at the
narrow windows above her, there was no sound, and no one answered her
summons. She sat down upon a fallen piece of stonework, and her thoughts
troubled her. Truly, she had come back to a new life. Even that locked
door seemed to have its significance. She did not remember ever to have
found it fastened before when she really wanted to enter.
She turned at the sound of approaching footsteps, and then rose quickly
to her feet.
"What a place to hide in!" exclaimed Lord Rosmore as he came towards
her. "I have never had the curiosity to penetrate into this rubbish heap
before, and behold I am rewarded by finding a jewel."
"I came here to be alone for a little while," she said.
"I came for the same reason."
"You did not follow me?" she asked, evident disbelief in her tone.
"I wish I could say that I had, if it would please you; but, alas! truth
will out. I came to think and to get through a troubled hour where my
fellows could not see me. In this, at least, we can sympathise with each
other it would seem."
"We can talk plainly, perhaps; it will be best," she answered.
"At least, I can explain," said Rosmore; "but won't you be seated again?
That is better," he went on as she sat down, "it seems to make
confession of my fault easier. A little while since I spoke to your
uncle about you. It was unwise, I know that now, but I did not think so
then. Your position and your wealth seemed to make it the honourable
thing to do. Sir John was kind enough to wish me good fortune, and I was
content to wait. It was not my intention that Sir John should say
anything to you, I did not imagine he would do so. Now, I learn that you
have been pestered with my sentiments by proxy, that I have been forced
to your notice. It is enough surely to make me seek solitude, where I
may curse the hard fate that ruins me."
"I dare not try and understand all you thought," Rosmore interrupted. "I
can only suppose that Sir John meant to be kind, that in some sense he
did not consider me an altogether unworthy alliance; but that I should
ever have my wooing done for me--the idea is maddening! A man could not
take a surer road to a woman's contempt."
"My uncle has made a mistake," said Barbara. "I understand, and you have
my thanks for the explanation."
"And your forgiveness?"
"I hardly think I had become angry."
"You lift my trouble from me with generous hands," said Rosmore. "Truly,
Sir John has made a mistake, his desire perhaps marring his judgment;
but, as truly, I am your humble worshipper. No! please hear me out. In
London I did not thrust myself upon you because I had wit enough to
understand that professions with even a suspicion of lightness in them
were distasteful to you; now, after what has occurred, I am at a
disadvantage, and I have no intention of putting my happiness to the
test at such an inopportune time. For the present look upon me as a
friend who hopes presently to win a greater regard, and who is,
meanwhile, always at your service."
"I thank you," Barbara said, and the man's nerves tingled as she rose
and swept him a graceful curtsy. She had never looked more beautiful,
never so desirable as at that moment. He had conquered so often and so
carelessly that he could not think of failure now.
"So we are friends and our troubles gone," he said gaily. "They are lost
in the _débris_ of this ruinous place. It is strange this part should
have been left in ruins, while the rest of the Abbey has been so
carefully rebuilt and preserved."
"It is because of the Nun of Aylingford."
"A nun! In an Abbey for monks?"
"Strange, but true. I thought everyone knew the story."
"No. Won't you tell it to me?"
"You must look into the Nun's Room first, Lord Rosmore," said Barbara,
and she was so interested in the legend that she forgot to ask herself
whether she liked or disliked her companion as she led the way to the
sunken stone chamber. "Be careful you do not stumble and fall into it,
for it is said that death comes to such a stumbler within the year."
"A fable, of course?" he laughed.
"I have only known one man who fell in. He was helped out unhurt, but he
died within the week. I should not like to fall."
"Give me your hand," he said.
"For your safety or for mine?" she returned. "I am used to this place,
have loved it since I was a child; besides, it is said that the curse
applies only to men. You see, the Nun had pity on her own sex."
Lord Rosmore's hand was still extended, but she did not take it.
"For thirteen years a woman lived in this dungeon. Under the creeper on
yonder wall you can see the stone slab which was her bed. The floor of
the hall shut her up almost in darkness, and from the hour she stepped
down into this room she saw no human face, heard no human voice."
"You stand too close to the opening, Mistress Lanison. I pray you come
back or take my hand."
Barbara stepped back and stood by the wall, facing him.
"Her story is a sad one, sad and cruel," she went on. "She had a lover,
and an enemy who said he loved her. The lover--a knight of prowess--went
to the wars, and on his return was told that the woman he worshipped was
false. He sought for her from one end of the land to the other, still
believing in her, until by some artifice he was brought to believe in
her unfaithfulness. Life had lost all zest for him, and he came here at
last, to Aylingford Abbey, to seek consolation in a life of religion. It
was the enemy who had contrived to keep the lovers apart, telling the
girl also that the knight in whom she trusted was untrue. How she
discovered the lie I do not know, nor does it matter, but when she did
she sought for him as he had sought for her. She heard at last that he
had become a monk, and she presently came to seek him at Aylingford.
Dressed in a monk's gown, she asked for him. They met, and were
discovered by the Abbot just at the moment when she had almost persuaded
him to forsake his vows for love of her. Religion had claimed him
because a lie had deceived him, she argued; therefore no vow could
really bind him. She argued in this way with the Abbot, too, who was a
shrewd man and as cruel as death. The monk, he knew, was no longer a
monk at heart; the woman had penetrated into the Abbey under a false
guise--as a man. No punishment was too severe for such a sin, he said,
and he used religious arguments which could certainly never find an echo
in a merciful heaven. The woman was condemned and lowered into that
room--a nun by force--and there for thirteen years she existed. Once a
day sufficient food to keep her alive was given her through the trap, in
such a manner that she should see no one, and never a word was spoken.
The monk fought for her release in vain, and soon died, raving mad, it
is said. When the nun died, she was carried to the woods beyond the
stream and buried. Village legend has marked a tree, which they call
'Nun's Oak,' as her burying-place, but probably this is fancy. Ever
since that time there has been a curse on this part of the Abbey, and
that is why it has been allowed to go to ruin."
"A sad tale most sweetly told," said Lord Rosmore; "a tale to appeal to
"Or it may be to warn a woman how cruel men can be," Barbara answered.
"Some men, not all," he said gently. "The monk in the story went mad for
love. Still, there is a warning, too, not to trust men over easily. The
greatest villains have often good looks to recommend them and can
deceive most easily."
"I think I could tell," said Barbara.
"I wonder," Rosmore answered slowly. "There is often a vein of romance
in a woman which makes her blind. I have thought of this more than once
when thinking of you."
"It would seem I have troubled you a great deal in one way or another,
"Some day, when you have forgotten that you were inclined to hate me, I
may tell you how much. Yet there is one thing I might tell you now, as a
friend, in case there should be much of this vein of romance in you."
"Yes, as a friend."
"Newgate--the trial day of the highwayman, Galloping Hermit."
He spoke abruptly, after a moment's pause, and had his intention been to
startle her he could hardly have employed a better method.
"I see you remember it," he said. "Lady Bolsover should not have taken
you, it was no place for a woman--indeed, she and I almost quarrelled
about it afterwards. You may remember I was with Lady Bolsover when
that--that gentleman brought you out of the crowd, the mysterious person
who did not want to be seen."
"Yes, I remember," she said quietly.
"A good-looking man, yet--"
"You knew him, Lord Rosmore?"
"Well enough to follow him; but I failed to find him."
"Why should you follow him?"
"You would hardly understand," he returned. "It is a matter concerned
with politics. This you know, however, that the King has enemies.
Monmouth plots in Holland, the Duke of Argyll is being defeated in
Scotland. Well, Mistress Lanison, there are traitors and traitors--those
that one may at least recognise as brave men, and others who are
cowardly curs. Of the first is Argyll and, perhaps, Monmouth; of the
second are those who promote rebellion from safe hiding-holes, and never
show themselves to take a hand in the fighting. There is a rascal hiding
from the officers of justice now--one Danvers--who is of this second
kind, a scurrilous fellow who is willing to barter the lives of better
men, but dares nothing himself. He is one of a gang. The man who came to
your rescue at Newgate is a companion of his. I have wondered whether
you have seen him since."
"At least it was courteous of him to come to my rescue," Barbara said.
"Never was there a man yet who had not a good instinct on occasion.
Besides, the basest of men would not fail to grasp the opportunity of
doing a service to a beautiful woman."
"I was almost crying, and in that condition I am positively repulsive,"
she answered, almost as if she were angry at being spoken of as a
beautiful woman. "What is the name of this man?"
"He calls himself Crosby--Gilbert Crosby. Probably he has no right to
the name. He is a dangerous and a clever man--dangerous because he plots
and schemes while other men act, clever because he skilfully manages to
evade the law. Many people find it difficult to believe ill of him, for
he has all the appearance of a courageous gentleman."
"I am among those people difficult to convince," said Barbara.
"Exactly, hence my warning," said Rosmore. "You noted how quickly he
disappeared. He saw me, and had no desire to face a man who knows him
for what he is. Those grey eyes of his were sharper than mine or he
would not have escaped so easily."
Barbara glanced at him quickly, wondering how much of their conversation
her uncle had repeated, but Lord Rosmore did not appear to notice her
"And if you had found him?" she asked.
"I should have forced a quarrel on some pretext or other, and so
contrived that he could not have run away without giving me
satisfaction. By killing him I should have done a public service, and,
for my own honour, I should have snapped the sword I had been compelled
to stain with the blood of so contemptible a person. You smile, Mistress
"At your vindictiveness, and at a thought which came into my mind."
"May I know it?"
"I was wondering what this Mr.--did you say the name was Crosby?--would
have done with his sword had he proved equal to reversing the issue of
"Ah! I wonder," and Lord Rosmore laughed, but not good-naturedly. "I
have faith enough in my skill to believe that it can successfully defend
you whenever you may have need of it."
She turned towards the doorway opening on to the terrace, but having
taken two or three hasty steps, as if desirous of bringing the interview
to a speedy end, she stopped and faced him:
"Lord Rosmore, this highwayman, this Galloping Hermit; he is not dead,
you know that?"
"Judge Marriott will not allow us to forget it," he laughed. "Give him
the slightest opportunity, and he will tell of his adventure on Burford
Heath half a dozen times in the day."
"Who is this Galloping Hermit?" Barbara asked, almost as though she
expected a definite answer to the question.
"Could I satisfy that curiosity I should be quite a famous person," he
said. "Scores of men envy him his reputation and half the women of
fashion are in love with him."
"Is he this Gilbert Crosby, think you?"
"Why should you suggest such a thing?" Rosmore asked sharply. "Were they
grey eyes which peeped through the brown mask that night?"
"I could not see; and, besides, I do not belong to that half of the
women of fashion."
"Truly, if you did you would be in no bad company. I have a sneaking
fondness for the fellow myself, and it has been my ill-fortune never to
meet him. By all accounts he is a gallant scoundrel, with a nerve of
iron, whereas Crosby--Oh, no, whoever Galloping Hermit may be, he is
not Gilbert Crosby."
Lord Rosmore did not follow Barbara on to the terrace. He had made his
peace with her, and had succeeded in establishing a definite
understanding between them. She accepted his friendship--that counted
for a great deal with such a woman. It would be strange if he could not
turn it into love. Yet he was conscious that this was to be no easy
triumph, no opportunity must be neglected, and his busy brain was full
of schemes for bending circumstances to further his desires.
A little later, as he slowly crossed one of the stone bridges towards
the woods, he saw Barbara sitting on the terrace, and Sydney Fellowes
standing before her reading from sheets of paper in his hand.
"I cannot write verses to please her, that is certain," he mused. "She
cannot care for Fellowes, his eyes are not grey. It is this fellow
Crosby she thinks of, and of a highwayman, perhaps. A strange pair of
rivals, truly! Sydney Fellowes might be useful, besides--" Some
brilliant idea seemed to take sudden possession of him, for there was
excitement in his step as he crossed the bridge quickly and disappeared
into the woods beyond.
Neither Barbara nor Fellowes noticed Lord Rosmore, nor were either of
them thinking of him. Fellowes was absorbed in reading his verses to the
best advantage. Barbara, while apparently listening intently to her
companion, was wondering if the man who had come more often into her
thoughts than perhaps she had realised could possibly be a scoundrel and
CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL
Although Barbara Lanison had found that life at the Abbey was different
since her return from London, and had concluded that the true reason lay
in the fact that she was now considered a woman, whereas before she had
been looked upon as a child only, she did not at once appreciate how
great the difference really was. Her uncle seemed a little doubtful how
to treat her. He talked a great deal about her taking her place as
mistress of the house, yet he made little attempt to have this position
recognised. The guests, especially the women, while quite willing to
admit her as one of themselves, did not even pretend to consider her
their hostess, and, on the whole, Sir John seemed quite contented that
they should not do so. He seemed rather relieved whenever Barbara
withdrew herself from the general company, as she constantly did, and
those who knew Sir John best found him more natural when his niece was
Since she only saw him when, as his intimates declared, he was under a
certain restraint, Barbara had not much opportunity of forming a clear
judgment of her uncle. He had been very kind to her ever since she had
come to Aylingford as a little child, and if his manner towards her had
changed recently she hardly noticed it. Under the circumstances she
would not easily be ready to criticise. But in the case of the guests
the change was not only very marked, but increasingly so, particularly
with the women. Whereas the men, chivalrous in spite of themselves,
perhaps, showed her a certain amount of deference, the women seemed to
resent her. It was so soon apparent that she had nothing in common with
them that they appeared to combine to shock her. Mistress Dearmer led
the laughter at what she termed Barbara's country manners and prudery.
There were few things in heaven or earth exempt from the ridicule of
Mrs. Dearmer's tongue, and it was a loose tongue, full of coarse tales
and licentious wit. She was a pretty woman, which, from the men's point
of view, seemed to add piquancy to her scandalous conversation, but the
fact only made Barbara's ears tingle the more. Mrs. Dearmer was in the
fashion; Barbara knew that, for even at Lady Bolsover's she had often
been made to blush, but she had never heard in St. James's Square a
tithe of the ribaldry which assailed her at the Abbey.
It was natural, perhaps, that Barbara Lanison should propound a problem
to herself. Was she foolish to resent what was little more than the
fashion of the day? These people were her uncle's guests, honoured
guests surely, since they had come to Aylingford so often. Would he
countenance anything to which there was any real objection? She would
have asked him, but found no opportunity. For two or three days after
his talk with her about Lord Rosmore she hardly saw him, and never for a
moment alone. More guests arrived, and it was during these days that
Mrs. Dearmer's conversation became more daring. On two occasions Barbara
had got up and walked away, followed by a burst of laughter--she thought
at her modesty, but it might have been at Mrs. Dearmer's tale.
On the second occasion Sydney Fellowes followed her as soon as he could
do so without undue comment.
"Why did you go?" he asked.
"That woman maddens me."
"Yes, she is--the fact is, you ought not to be here."
"Not be here!" she exclaimed. "This is my home. It is she who ought not
to be here. I shall speak to my uncle."
"Wait! Have a little patience," said Fellowes. "After all, she is Mrs.
Dearmer, a lady of fashion, a lady who has been to Court. You would be
astonished at the power she wields in certain directions. In these days
the world is not censorious, and is apt to laugh at those who are."
"If you merely came to defend that woman, I am in the mood to like your
absence better than your company."
"I hate her," Fellowes answered. "I think I hate all women now that I
have known one beautiful, pure ideal. Oh, do not misunderstand me. I
look up at a star to worship its dazzling brightness, and I would not
have it come to earth for any purpose. You are too far removed from Mrs.
Dearmer to understand her, nor can she possibly appreciate you. To fight
her would be to fail, just now at any rate--even Sir John would laugh at
"You speak seriously?"
"Intentionally. I am a very debased fellow. A dozen men will tell you
so, and women too for that matter, but I can appreciate the good,
although I am incapable of rising to its level. I recognise it from the
gutter, but I go on lying in the gutter. There is only one person on the
earth who can pick me out and keep me out."
"I should not suppose there was a person in the world who would consider
such a man worth such a labour," said Barbara.
"No doubt you are right, and that is why I must remain in the gutter."
He looked, in every way, so exactly the opposite of anyone doomed to
such a resting-place that Barbara laughed.
"I suppose you know who that person is?" he said.
"At least I know that any woman would be a fool to attempt such an
unprofitable task," she answered. "If I thought you were really speaking
the truth, I should hate you. You would not be worthy the name of a man,
and even a Mrs. Dearmer, in her more reasonable moments, would despise
Fellowes looked at her for a moment.
"I wish my mother had lived to make a better man of me," he said
abruptly, and turned and left her.
Barbara had become so accustomed to Sydney Fellowes' sudden and
changeable moods that she thought little of his words, or his manner of
leaving her. Yet, to the man had come a sudden flash of repentance, not
lasting but real enough for the moment, holding him until the next
temptation came in his path. He did not seek his companions, but crossed
one of the bridges, and plunged into the woods, cursing himself and
feeling out of tune with the rest of the world. Two hours later he and
Lord Rosmore came back together, slowly, and talking eagerly. Fellowes,
like many other quite young men, had a profound admiration for Lord
Rosmore, and his opinion upon any matter carried weight.
"You have not sufficient faith in yourself, Fellowes," Rosmore said as
they crossed the bridge. "That is the trouble."
"It is easily remedied," was the answer.
"That is the spirit which brings victory," said Rosmore, patting his
companion on the shoulder.
The guests who had arrived during the last two or three days had
introduced a noisier and wilder element into the Abbey. Barbara was
puzzled at her uncle's attitude, and retired from the company as much as
possible. This evening she left early, pretending no excuse as hitherto
she had done. She wanted her uncle to understand, and question her.
Surely he must do so if she were rude to his guests. A burst of laughter
followed her withdrawal.
"You must be a Puritan in disguise, Abbot John, to have such a niece,"
said Mrs. Dearmer; and then she turned and whispered something into the
ear of Sir Philip Branksome that might have made him blush had he been
capable of such a thing. Sir John seemed mightily entertained at the
lady's suggestion. He laughed aloud, cursed Puritans generously, and
drank deeply to their ultimate perdition.
There is ever some restraint in vice when virtue is present, but with
Barbara's departure all restraint seemed to vanish. There were probably
degrees in the viciousness of these men and women, but, as a whole, it
would have been difficult to bring together a more abandoned company.
High play was here, and the ruin of many a man's fortune. Honour, save
of the spurious sort, held no man in check, and virtue was as dross.
Debauchery of every kind was practised openly and unashamedly. Vice was
enthroned in this temple, and her ribald followers bowed the head. This
was Aylingford Abbey, built for worship long ago, therefore worship
should be in it now. "We will be monks and nuns of the devil," some
genius in wickedness had cried one evening, and the suggestion had been
hailed with delight. This was their foundation, so they had called
themselves ever since, and Sir John Lanison delighted to be the "Abbot"
of such a community. They chose a sign whereby they might be known to
one another in the world--the slow tracing of a circle on the forehead
with the forefinger--and they bound themselves by an oath to their
master to love him and all his works, and to eschew all that was called
good. It had often been noticed how many persons of condition, who
seemed to be at one with Sir John in politics, had never been offered
the hospitality of Aylingford. The true reason had never been divulged.
If, as had chanced on one or two occasions, guests had been there who
knew nothing of these debaucheries, the devil's children present
dissembled, and affected to yawn over the dull entertainment provided by
Sir John. The secret of the Abbey had never leaked out, nor did it
appear that any man or woman, desirous of betraying it, had ever found
an entrance into the community. Once, a year ago, a woman had whispered
her suspicion of a man, and he was found dead in his lodging in Pall
Mall before he had time to speak of what he knew, even if he intended to
As he was popular in the county, passing for a God-fearing gentleman, so
Sir John Lanison was popular as the devil's "Abbot." There were few who
could surpass him in wickedness, but he was a man of moods, and there
were times when fear peered out of his eyes. He was superstitious,
finding omens when he gambled at basset, and premonitions in all manner
of foolish signs. He had played this evening with ill success, he had
drunk deeply, and was inclined to be quarrelsome.
"The Abbot is wanting to make us all do penance," laughed Fellowes, who
some time since had parted with sobriety. "I'll read him these verses to
pacify him; they would make an angry devil collapse into a chuckle. Mrs.
Dearmer inspired them, so you may guess how wicked they are."
"Always verses--nothing but verses," said Rosmore, who had drunk little
and seemed to watch his companions with amusement.
"No woman was ever won by poetry," said a girl in Fellowes' ear. "Try
some other way."
The girl whispered to him, laughing the while. She was very pretty, very
innocent to look upon.
"Women must be carried by assault, gloriously, as a besieged city is,"
roared Branksome from the other end of the room. "The lover who attempts
to starve them into surrender is a fool, and gets ridiculed for his
pains. What do you say, Rosmore?"
"Nothing. There are many ladies who can explain my methods better than I
Mrs. Dearmer laughed, and desired a lesson forthwith.
"My dear lady, there would be too many lovers to call me to account for
my presumption," Rosmore answered.
"Branksome is right," said Mrs. Dearmer. "Take a woman by force or not
at all. She loves a desperate man. His desperation and overriding of all
convention do homage to her. I never yet met the virtue that could stand
against such an assault."
"She is right, Sydney," whispered the girl to Fellowes, her hands
suddenly clasped round his arm.
Fellowes looked down into her face, and a strange expression came into
"I believe she is," he said almost passionately. "I believe she is.
There's no woman so virtuous that--"
"None," whispered the girl.
Fellowes laughed, and shook himself free from her.
"I'll drink to success, and then--" He stumbled as he rose to his feet,
and, recovering himself, laughed at Sir John. "You shall have the verses
another time, Abbot; I have other things to do just now."
He called a servant, and talked to him in a low voice.
"Yes, blockhead, I said the hall," he exclaimed in a louder voice. "The
hall in ten minutes, and if she isn't there I'll come and let the life
out of you for a lazy scoundrel who cannot carry a message. A drink with
you, reverend Abbot--a liquid benediction on me."
Lord Rosmore watched him, but Sir John took no notice of him. Sir John's
thoughts were wandering, and had anyone been watching him closely they
might have seen fear looking out of his eyes. A candle on a table near
him spluttered and burnt crookedly.
"That means disaster," he muttered, and then he turned to Lord Rosmore
fiercely, though he spoke in an undertone. "You were a fool to let me
bring her back."
It was evident that he had made a similar statement to his companion
before, for Rosmore showed no surprise or ignorance of his meaning.
"I shall take her away presently, her lover and deliverer. In this case
it is the best method."
"And let her curse me?"
"No. I shall promise to deliver you and bring about your redemption."
"A devilish method," said Sir John.
"One must work with the tools that are to hand," said Rosmore with a
shrug of his shoulders.
"But when? When?"
"Perhaps in a few short hours. Wait! Wait, Sir John. It seems to me that
opportunity is in the air to-night."
"And disaster," said Sir John, glancing at the spluttering candle. Lord
Rosmore made no comment--perhaps did not hear the words, for he was
intent upon watching Sydney Fellowes, who was standing near a door which
opened into the hall. No one else appeared to notice him, not even the
pretty girl he had spurned. She was too much engaged in consoling a
youth who had lost heavily at basset.
Barbara was dull in her room. The silence was oppressive, for no sounds
of the riotous company reached her there, and the pale moonlight on the
terrace below, and over the sleeping woods, seemed to throw a mist of
sadness over the world. She had opened the casement, and for a time had
puzzled over her uncle and his strange guests. Something must be going
forward at the Abbey of which she was ignorant. Sydney Fellowes must
know this, and there had been more meaning in his words than she had
imagined. Why ought she not to be at the Abbey? And then her thoughts
wandered to another man who had found her in a place where no woman
ought to be, and she remembered all Lord Rosmore had said about him.
Looking out on the quiet, sleeping world, so full of mystery and the
unknown, it was easy to fall into a reverie, to indulge in speculations
which, waking again, she would hardly remember; easy to lose all count
of time. Once, at some distance along the terrace towards the servants'
quarters, there was the sound of slow footsteps and a low laugh. There
were two shadows in the moonlight--a man's and a woman's. Some serving
maid had found love, for the low laugh was a happy one, and some man,
perchance no more than a groom, had suddenly become a hero in a girl's
eyes. Unconsciously perhaps, Barbara sighed. That girl was happier than
A gentle knock came at her door, and a man stood there.
"Mr. Fellowes sent me. Will you see him in the hall in ten minutes. It
is important; he must see you. 'It is for your own sake.' Those were his
own words, madam."
Barbara received the message, but gave no answer, and the man departed.
Had the message come from anyone but Sydney Fellowes she would have
taken no notice of it, but, remembering what he had said to her, this
request assumed importance. She was more likely to discover the truth
about the Abbey from Sydney Fellowes than from anyone else.
There was only a dim light in the great hall--candles upon a table at
the far end. The moonlight came through the painted windows, staining
the stone floor here and there with misty colours. There was no movement
near her, but the sound of voices and laughter came from the chamber
beyond--the one from which she had angrily departed some time ago. Now
the voices were hushed to a murmur, now they were loud, and the laughter
was irresponsible. How she hated the sound of it, and that shriller
note, peculiarly persistent for a moment, was Mrs. Dearmer's. No
Christian feeling could prevent her from hating that woman.
Barbara crossed to the wide hearth and waited.
A door opened suddenly; there was the rustling of the curtain which hung
over it being thrust aside, a shaft of light shot across the hall for a
moment, and the sounds of voices and laughter were loud, then the door
closed again sharply. There were a few hasty steps, and then silence.
"You sent me a message, Mr. Fellowes."
In a moment he was beside her.
She stepped back as though the sound of her own name startled her.
"I love you. Women were made for love--you above all women. You think I
can only scribble poetry--you are wrong! I mean to--Barbara, my
"You insult me, Mr. Fellowes."
He caught her in his arms as she turned away from him.
"Insult! Nonsense! Love insults no woman. You are mine--mine! I take you
as it is right a man should take a woman."
She struggled to free herself, but could not. She did not want to cry
"You remembered your mother to-day, remember her now," she panted.
The wine fumes were in his head, confusion in his brain; reason had left
her seat for a while, and truth was distorted.
"I do remember her," he answered, speaking low but wildly. "She was a
woman. A man took her, as I take you; wooed her, loved her as I love
you. I do remember--that is why you are mine to-night."
She struggled again. She did not want to cry out. There was no man in
that room she wished to call upon to defend her--not even her uncle.
Evil seemed to surround her. Had any other man touched her like this,
she would have called to Sydney Fellowes, so far had she believed in him
and trusted him.
"Barbara, you shall love me!" he went on, holding her so that she was
powerless. "Love shall be sealed, my lips on yours."
"Help! Save me from this man!" Her fierce, angry cry woke the echoes. In
a moment there was the sound of hurrying feet, the sudden opening of a
door, and again a shaft of light cut through the hall. Men and women
rushed in from the adjoining room with loud and eager inquiry. Then Sir
John, closely followed by Lord Rosmore.
"Quick! More lights!" he said. "Who is it screaming for help?"
"Is it some serving-maid in distress?" cried Branksome.
"Or a fool too honest to be kissed," laughed a woman.
"Barbara!" Sir John's exclamation was almost a whisper. Lights were in
the hall now, brought hastily from the room beyond. Some had been put
down in the first place that offered, some were still held by the
guests. Fellowes had turned to face this wild interruption, and Barbara
had wrenched herself free from his arms as he did so.
"A love passage!" laughed Fellowes. "Why interfere?"
"He insulted me!" said Barbara.
"My niece is--"
"Leave this to me, Sir John," said Rosmore, laying a hand upon his
"That's right, Rosmore, and leave me to my wooing," cried Fellowes.
"You cur! You shall repent this night's folly," said Rosmore.
"Excellent! Excellent! You should have been a mummer. This is glorious
comedy!" and Fellowes laughed aloud. "What! A hint of tragedy in it,