others along the narrow way

Chief Justice Jeffreys sat alone in his lodging at Wells.

The long sitting in court was over. All day he had stormed and bullied,
reducing prisoners and advocates alike, and even his brothers on the
bench, to a state of terrified submission. He had poured forth abuse on
the heads of timorous witnesses, cracked his jests and thundered his
threats at the miserable victims of the law’s severity. He had sworn,
wrangled, and blustered, and now he was alone.

The wearying journey, the tedious days of work, the long nights of
carouse, above all the unrestrained passions in which he daily indulged
had conduced to the inevitable result; on his arrival in Wells his
malady had become greatly aggravated, and his physicians had urged on
him the absolute necessity of quiet and abstinence. Accordingly
to-night he followed their advice; the officers and other jovial
gentlemen who formed his escort feasted apart, and, sick in body, weary
in mind, he sat alone.

And as he sat there in all the luxury of his surroundings, despite his
high position, despite his success, despite his wealth, power, and
influence, ’twould have been hard to find in all the length and breadth
of the kingdom a more wretched man than George Jeffreys, lord chief
justice of England, lord chancellor elect.

For the man was cursed with a double curse, and the burden of his life
seemed at times too heavy to be borne. Cursed with an ambition which
would not let him rest, which ever urged him to new struggles, new
extravagances, new ventures, and contrariwise cursed with a
sensitiveness, a cowardice that made each step in the path of his career
an added terror to his brain, each rough encounter a fresh misery, each
rebuff a stinging agony.

The mainspring of his character was an overweening vanity. He must be
first of his company, he must, by whatever means offered, rise to the
highest; but on the other hand he could brook no opposition, a taunt or
a rebuke was torture to him, a threat a terror that moved him at times
to tears. The rebuffs and sneers which to a braver nature appear but
the natural pricks of life, were to him a veritable torment from which
he shrank with all the horror of a keenly sensitive soul. While his
ambitious vanity drove him to assume airs of overweening insolence, to
bully and overawe all who came before him, to delight to see men shrink
and tremble at his words; yet if he met with opposition, his haughty
mien vanished in a burst of childish passion, and if he found his aims
thwarted he became reduced to a state of helpless misery.

Thus his ambition drove him into a struggle with the world, but the very
enmity and hatred naturally evoked were to him the source of misery
unspeakable.

Such was the man who had elected to climb the highest rung of the
ladder. Verily he paid his price.

As he sat alone, forced no longer to wear his mask, to preserve an air
of proud assurance and command, the reflection of his thoughts played
across his face, and ’twas a bitter tale to read. His brows frowned in
pain and perplexity, his lips twitched nervously, and in his eyes lurked
a look as of one cowering beneath an ever-present dread. He leaned
weariedly back in his chair, his hands idly resting on its arms, his
face drawn with suffering.

On the table before him lay many letters from friends of the prisoners
he had recently condemned, heart-rending pleas for mercy, despairing
appeals for a mitigation, however slight, of the agonising sentences he
had pronounced; and among them was a letter from his father, the old man
whom still in spite of all he respected and in his own way loved, a
letter entreating him to show pity in his judgments, threatening to
disown him should he still persist in his bloody methods. And Jeffreys
himself, save in his outbursts of rage, was not a cruel man, and took
little enough delight in his brutal task. Still he had no choice. For
the King’s commands had been absolute; no mercy must be shown and the
King’s commands he dared not disobey.

And in addition to these commands, apart from his hope to win by his
zealous service the office of lord chancellor, there was jet another
reason, more poignant than all, why he dared show no mercy to those
associated with the late rebellion; why, if he could have had his own
way, every man who had so much as looked at Duke Monmouth should be put
to death.

For he himself, in one of those sudden fits of alarm which formed the
cause in him of so much double-dealing, had intrigued secretly with
Monmouth, and the haunting fear of discovery had sent him down into the
west like a savage beast of prey, panting to sweep from sight all traces
of rebellion, striving to prove, by the very ferocity of his judgments,
his loyalty to the King and his repugnance of the course of his enemies.
So he was driven, by the very desperation of his ambition, to win for
himself a hatred and contempt that almost broke his heart.

And to-night, as he sat alone, he wondered wearily whether the struggle
was worth the torture it created, and his heart cried to him to give up
the contest, resign his office, and in retirement find rest for his
suffering body, and peace for his weary soul. So spake his heart, and
he longed for determination to follow its dictates. Yet he knew too
well the while that peace was not for him, for the curse of Lucifer was
upon him, and so long as there remained power to strive for, or enemies
to overthrow, so long must he struggle on in misery, until death should
bring to him the only rest such as he may ever know.

He was interrupted in his musings by the entrance of his secretary,
Master Stephen Jewars. Perturbed and anxious the man hurried into the
room, and after a moment’s pause advanced to his master’s side.

“My lord,” he began nervously, “there is an officer without, asking to
see your lordship.”

Jeffreys moved impatiently.

“Not to-night, Jewars,” he said sharply; “I will see no one to-night.
His business will wait.”

“Pardon, my lord, even so I answered him, but he declares his business
will not wait. Moreover, ’tis a matter of the most absolute importance,
so he states, that he see you.”

“Devil take you!” cried Jeffreys angrily. “Why, fellow, have you not
heard the same tale ten thousand times of late? ’Tis another o’ these
petitioners, I’ll warrant. I will not see him.”

A moment the secretary hesitated. Then he stooped over his master and
said in a low, cautious tone:

“My lord, it may be I am mistaken, but—methinks the man knows
something.”

Jeffreys started.

“What mean you, fellow?” he asked quickly. “What does he say?”

“Nay, my lord, ’tis mostly by his manner I judge it, for he demands to
see your lordship as tho’ ’tis nought to him yet for your sake ’twere
wise. And then also his words—for he claims to have information
concerning an intrigue with the late Duke, an intrigue which may not
astonish your lordship as much as most folk, yet ’twill be of greater
moment to your lordship to be the first to hear on’t.”

“Tut!” cried Jeffreys nervously. “Any man might say that.”

“Aye, my lord, any man might say it, but an I be any judge of men, this
man hath meaning in his words.”

Jeffreys was silent.

“Well, well, Jewars,” he said after a pause; “I will see the man. But
not alone. You will remain in the room, and look you, have an escort
ready at hand, lest the man must be—lest he prove an impostor.”

“Very good, my lord,” answered Jewars with a sigh of relief. “I will
bring him in at once.”

Two minutes later he ushered Captain Protheroe into the judge’s
presence.

At sight of his visitor Jeffreys started, and eyeing him sharply for a
moment, rapped out a fierce oath.

“What’s this!” he cried. “What do you here? How dare you come here? I
know you, fellow, I know your face well.”

“’Tis possible,” answered the other coolly. “I have been frequently
before your lordship—er—unofficially. I was one of Colonel Kirke’s
officers.”

“Truly, you do well to say _was_,” shouted Jeffreys angrily. “I mind
you well, sir. You are he who was committed at Taunton and who
afterwards escaped. I have not forgot you, sir.”

“Indeed! I congratulate your lordship upon an excellent memory,” was
the cool reply.

“Zounds! Jewars. What is the fellow here for?” blustered the judge.
“A condemned rebel! A traitor! Call in the guard.”

“Nay, my lord,” interrupted Captain Protheroe quietly. “I have that to
say to your lordship of the deepest import. You will do well to hear me
out. The guard afterwards—an you will.”

Jeffreys eyed him, frowning.

“You are a cool fellow,” he muttered. “Have a care, sir, have a care.
Do not trifle with me. Your life is not worth one——”

“I am aware of that fact, my lord,” he interrupted coolly. “Judge then
whether the business which led me to place myself in your power be
likely to be of import or no. Indeed, my lord, you will do well to hear
me.”

For a moment the judge hesitated, trying to outfrown the officer’s cool
glance, but finding here was a different man from those whom he was
accustomed to bully in the law courts, he submitted with a bad grace to
the demand.

“Well! Well! say what you desire, sir; but look you, waste no time.”

“I have no desire to do so, my lord. In fact waste of time were more
fatal to me than ever it could be inconvenient to your lordship.
Briefly then, I am here to give your lordship an opportunity of
exercising mercy.”

Judge Jeffreys stared for a moment in amazement, then dropped his fist
upon the table with a fierce oath.

“Mercy! Mercy!” he shouted. “And have you dared, fellow, to force your
way into my presence, to interrupt my rest, solely to beg for mercy on
your miserable life. Have you indeed so dared, fellow?”

“My name is Protheroe, since it seems to have escaped your lordship’s
otherwise excellent memory,” was the cool reply. “But indeed I
certainly have not intruded on your seclusion merely to beg so slight a
thing as my pardon. ’Tis a most wide-reaching exercise of mercy I offer
your lordship, the release of four rebels at least.”

Jeffreys sprang to his feet, trembling with fury, and roared out a
torrent of oaths that startled even the accustomed ears of his hearer.
But Captain Protheroe did not change a tittle of his cool, resolute
mien. He knew his man, and knew well that the only way to master such
as he was to meet insolence with insolence, and rage with cool contempt.

“To the guardhouse with the insolent fellow,” shouted Jeffreys, glaring
with passion. “Away with him!”

“You forget, my lord,” shouted the officer, endeavouring vainly to win a
hearing; “I do not come empty-handed, I bring my price.”

But the Judge was beside himself with fury, and Captain Protheroe had
hardly escaped immediate arrest, had not the secretary stepped quickly
forward and whispered a few words in his master’s ear. At first he
could gain no attention, but gradually the storm subsided, the judge’s
fury wavered before the calm indifference of the soldier, and after a
moment’s silence he submitted sulkily to his secretary’s persuasion.

“Well! Well! Jewars. I will hear him,” he muttered. “Look you, sir,
say clearly what has brought you here. You claim to have information to
give. What is it? What have you to offer?”

“Two letters, my lord.”

“Letters!” The judge started forward, grasping the table with his
hands, his eyes glaring at the officer. “Letters, say you?”

“Aye, my lord,” answered the officer nonchalantly. “Certain letters of
your lordship’s own hand, which have come into my possession. They are,
I venture to believe, a most sufficient guarantee for my trust in your
clemency.”

Jeffreys dropped his hands and fell back into his chair, his eyes fixed
on the speaker with horrible intensity. His fingers moved nervously and
his lips twitched. Jewars touched him on the shoulder, and with a start
he recovered himself.

“Show me the letters!” he snarled abruptly.

Captain Protheroe drew the papers from his breast, and handed them
across the table. He was purposely deliberate in his movements,
revelling in the anxiety of the judge’s face.

There was a dead silence in the room while Judge Jeffreys perused the
letters. He bent his head low over the paper, therefore his face was
hidden from the officer, who waited breathless for the pronouncement
upon the contents.

At length after a long pause, the judge raised his head.

His face was calm, his voice as usual loud and raucous.

He eyed the officer firmly.

“These”—he said slowly, tapping the papers—”these are forgeries.”

A sudden cold chill crept round Captain Protheroe’s heart. He stared at
the judge in amazement, in slowly rising despair.

“Forgeries, sir,” said Jeffreys again coldly. “Have you no more to
say?”

But even while he spake, Captain Protheroe noted, though the face and
voice were calm, yet the hand which held the letter trembled till the
paper shook like an aspen leaf. He noted this, and took fresh courage
from the sight.

“Pardon me, my lord,” he drawled politely; “not forgeries,
but—er—copies.”

The judge glared at him.

“Copies,” he cried sharply. “Then where are the originals! Show them
to me?”

“Indeed, my lord, you underrate my very high opinion of your
lordship’s—er—ingenuity, if you deem I have brought the originals with
me,” answered the captain with the same slow politeness. “They are in
safe-keeping elsewhere.”

Jeffreys swore under his breath. Then he turned to the officer with a
scornful laugh.

“And you dream, by these letters, you can prove me traitor, eh?” he
asked mockingly.

“Certainly not, my lord, if your lordship can prove your innocence,” was
the cool answer.

There was silence. The two men eyed one another defiantly. Then
Jeffreys laid down the letters, and leaned across the table.

“You are a fool, sir,” he said sharply, “an you think to reap any
advantage from these letters. I tell you the plain truth. I have
intrigued with Monmouth, but solely that by gaining his confidence, I
might prove of greater assistance to his Majesty.”

“Indeed, my lord, I never held so low an opinion of you as to suppose
you would confine your treachery to one party only,” answered Captain
Protheroe insolently. But his heart beat quickly, for he liked not the
suggestion in the judge’s words.

“Have a care, sir,” shouted Jeffreys angrily. “Recollect you are in my
power.”

“With reservations, my lord. For, if I join not my friends within two
hours, the originals of these letters will, before to-morrow night, be
in the hands of one likely to take a deeper interest in the matter than
your lordship seems to do.”

“Devil damn you, fellow! Have I not told you wherefore these letters
were writ?”

“You have. For your lordship’s sake I trust others may place more
credence in your story than I do myself.”

“What! Do you dream his Majesty will believe there is one word of truth
in your story if I deny it? Your letters are powerless to destroy me.
Heavens, man, do you suppose his Majesty would disgrace me on such
evidence? I tell you, sir, I am as necessary to him as his crown.”

“My lord, you yourself undoubtedly are the best judge as to what extent
his Majesty finds your services a necessity. But ’tis said he is easily
suspicious, and ’twill not be the first time such accusations have been
brought.”

Jeffreys winced at the suggestion.

Captain Protheroe continued quietly:

“But ’tis not to his Majesty the papers would be delivered. He is the
head of the kingdom, but by no means the only power therein. It might
be, my lord, that the accusation once brought, he would be powerless to
save you.”

“What do you mean?” snarled the judge.

“I think, my lord, ’twas his late Majesty who remarked that your
lordship was not ’parliament-proof.’”

Jeffreys started back and glanced uneasily at the speaker.

“Parliament,” continued the officer slowly, “is indeed almost entirely
Tory, but yet, as your lordship has good reason to know, it hath no
great love for your person. There may not be many honest men among the
members, but ’tis certain there are many cowards, and cowards will not
brook traitors. If this accusation be brought forward it will not be
lightly set aside, And it should not be necessary for me to remind your
lordship that you have many enemies in the House.”

Jeffreys sat silent, gnawing his nails, and gazing moodily on the
ground.

After a pause Captain Protheroe continued with rising courage.

“Now, my lord, should these letters fall into the hands of the Duke of
Rochester for example.”

Jeffreys started to his feet with a sudden wild cry.

“Your price, man, your price?” he shouted fiercely. Then he sank down
again and leaned his head wearily upon his hand.

Captain Protheroe’s eyes flashed with triumph.

“My price!” he cried eagerly. “My lord, I might ask much, but I
refrain. All I demand is a free pardon for four rebels, Mistress
Barbara Winslow, Sir Rupert Winslow, Sir Ralph Trevellyan, and myself.
That is my price, and no dear one for such evidence as this.”

“Pardons! Pardons!” cried Jeffreys testily; “what have I to do with
pardons? ’Tis his Majesty alone who can grant such.”

“Truly, my lord,” answered the officer politely; “yet knowing the great
confidence his Majesty places in your lordship, I venture to believe you
will find no great difficulty in procuring what I demand. In the
meantime I will content myself with a safe pass to Holland for myself
and my companions.”

A sudden light gleamed in the judge’s eyes. Drawing towards him ink and
paper he wrote the necessary orders, signed and sealed them and laid
them on the table beside him.

“That will serve your purpose, sir,” he said quietly. “My secretary will
now accompany you to fetch the originals of the letters; on your return
with them this passport shall be delivered to you.”

Captain Protheroe laughed quickly.

Then he turned to Jeffreys with an air of deep reproach.

“Alas! my lord,” he cried, “you do indeed underrate my opinion of your
ability; moreover, I fear, you take me for a fool. No, no, my lord;
that plan likes me not.”

Judge Jeffreys started up with an oath, and made a movement to tear the
paper in pieces. Captain Protheroe stopped him sharply.

“Hearken, my lord,” he said sternly, “you will hand that pass to me now,
you will take no steps to interfere with our departure, and you will at
once apply yourself to obtain the pardons I demand. If money be
required to win them I doubt not your lordship has sufficient to meet
all expenses. In the meantime I and my friends will ride in safety to
the coast, stopping a night or so at Durford Manor house——”

“Durford,” cried Jeffreys sharply, “what would you at Durford?”

“Er—a small matter of an old gold brocade, I believe,” answered Captain
Protheroe, with a little smile of reminiscence. “From there we will
take ship and sail for Holland. On the day your lordship procures our
pardons, the letters you require shall be delivered into your hands.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Refuse! why, then, as I have already explained, the letters have
another destination. His Majesty, I believe, has now left Winchester,
but the Duke——”

“I should at least soon see you hanged,” interrupted Jeffreys furiously.

“I believe you, my lord,” answered the captain drily; “but I do not
anticipate I should have long to wait before your lordship followed me.”

There was a pause. Then Jeffreys continued testily.

“What assurance have I these letters will be delivered to me?”

“My word.”

“Pah! What faith put you in my word that you should have your pass?”

“None whatever! but the parallel is hardly just. I am a man of honour.
That is one of the few titles to which your lordship has never aspired.”
Then he continued sharply, “Come, my lord, there is no time to lose; I
beg you to come to a decision. I will not insult your intellect by
repeating the facts of the case. Briefly, the matter runs thus: Whose
head do you count of greatest value, mine or your lordship’s?”

There was a full minute’s silence. Then without a word Jeffreys picked
up the passport and handed it to the officer.

“Ah, my lord! I thought I should not be mistaken in your answer,” said
the captain coolly. “I need not impress upon you the advisability of
doing all in your power to facilitate our safe journey. Our interests
will doubtless be dear to you as—as your own neck. My lord, I bid you
good-evening.”

The judge made no answer. He leaned wearily back in his chair, staring
moodily before him. Behind him stood the secretary, silent, immovable,
but with an expression of deepest relief upon his face. Captain
Protheroe turned on his heel, and strode across the room, but scarcely
had he reached the door when it was opened suddenly from without, and he
found himself face to face with Colonel Kirke.

Both men gave a sharp exclamation of astonishment and sprang back. Then
the colonel with a sudden quick movement stepped into the room, shut the
door, and set his back against it.

For a moment all was still, the two stared at each other in dead
silence, measuring glances of hatred and contempt. Then Jeffreys rose
from his chair and stepped quickly forward.

“What do you want, colonel?” he asked hoarsely.

Kirke turned abruptly to the judge.

“What is this man doing here, my lord?” he demanded sharply.

Jeffreys moved nervously.

“Captain Protheroe is about to start upon a mission to Holland, at my
direction,” he answered nervously.

“But, my lord, have you forgot? this fellow is an escaped rebel,
committed for treason.”

“I know, colonel. But he is pardoned.”

“Pardoned! By whom? For what reason?”

“In return for information received,” answered Jeffreys quickly.

“Hell-fire! That he is not!” shouted the colonel fiercely. “I know
you, Jeffreys, you’ve made your money out of him, and now you would let
him go. But, by Heaven! an you do, I’ll noise it abroad till all London
hear on’t. And you know, none better, his Majesty’s commands concerning
these rebels, not one is to escape. Pardoned! Now, by the light of the
Prophet’s beard, the man is a traitor and shall hang e’en if I had to do
it with my own hands. Pardoned! Pah! The man shall hang as sure as my
name is Percy Kirke.”

He ceased, and there was another silence. Captain Protheroe loosened in
its sheath the sword he earned and glanced rapidly round the room. He
turned to the chief justice, but no further help showed there. Jeffreys
had sunk back in his chair, and looked the picture of helpless dismay.
The man was a mass of nerves, sensitive as a girl; he trembled under
Colonel Kirke’s fierce attack, and had no words with which to defend
himself.

“Do you understand me, Jeffreys?” the colonel again shouted. “By
Heaven, I’ll publish the facts.”

“My lord,” interposed Captain Protheroe quietly, “’tis but a night’s
ride to Winchester.”

Jeffreys looked from one to the other hopelessly calculating his chances
with a desperate cunning.

“Tut, colonel,” he began nervously; “what is the man to you? Let him——”

He was interrupted by a sudden knock at the door, and the entrance of an
orderly.

“A messenger from London, my lord,” he said.

He marched across to the chief justice, and handed him a packet, then
saluting, turned and left the room.

Partly with the idea of gaining time, partly with a faint hope of there
finding a way out of his difficulty, Jeffreys broke open the packet and
began to read. Colonel Kirke stood silent, watching him angrily, but
Captain Protheroe glanced hurriedly up and down the room, puzzling his
wits to devise some method of escape.

Suddenly the chief justice started to his feet and turned to the
colonel. There was a look of excitement on his face, and triumph in his
eyes.

“Colonel Kirke,” he exclaimed harshly, “you are recalled to London!”

With clenched hands and blazing eyes Kirke turned on Jeffreys.

“Recalled! I! What in the devil’s name do you mean?”

“Here are your orders. The regiment will proceed there in the course of
a week. You are to set out immediately.”

Kirke stared at the paper in amazement; then he threw it to the ground
and stamped on it in a sudden fury. “Recalled! Disgraced! Bah! Have
you had a hand in this, Jeffreys? Recalled! Now, by——” He roared out
a torrent of oaths.

Presently he grew calmer, picked up the paper, read it once more, and
locked moodily at the chief justice.

“I must set out at once,” he muttered. “But look you, Jeffreys, a word
of warning; this is but a passing affair, the work o’ that meddlesome
Sunderland, I’ll be bound. I shall soon return, so be careful what you
do. I’ve set my heart on this matter”—pointing to the captain. “When I
return, an that fellow be not handed over to me for court-martial, then,
by all the devils in heaven and hell, I’ll be revenged. You know me,
Jeffreys, and you know what I can do. Take warning.”

He swung to the door, then pausing, turned to Captain Protheroe, and
eyed him with a scornful glance.

“A narrow shave for you,” he said; “but I’ll hope to see you hanged yet,
my fine fellow.”

Captain Protheroe smiled scornfully.

“I’m afraid, colonel,” he answered drily, “unless our executions take
place simultaneously on the same spot, we can’t both realise our mutual
hope.”

With an oath Colonel Kirke swung out of the room, and the door was shut.
Then Captain Protheroe turned to Jeffreys. The judge’s face was a study
of indecision. He stared moodily at the letters before him, he glanced
nervously at the door through which the colonel had retired. He was a
man standing betwixt two abysses, doubting over which to risk a jump.
At last he raised his head, and faced the captain defiantly.

“Captain Protheroe,” he said, “I must withdraw your passport and place
you under arrest.”

Captain Protheroe stared at the judge in dismay. The secretary took a
rapid step forward, and stooped over his master’s chair.

“My lord,” he whispered, “think what you do. These letters——”

“I know! I know!” cried Jeffreys testily; “but I also know Kirke. ’Tis
one or the other, and Kirke is not a man to deny.”

Again the secretary stooped to argue, but Jeffreys thrust him aside.

“No, no, Jewars, I tell you ’tis the safer way. This is the only
evidence”—tapping the letters—”and it may be disproved.”

Then, with a sudden inspiration Captain Protheroe stepped forward, and
leaning over the table, fixed his eyes on Jeffreys.

“The only evidence, my lord?” he asked quietly. “Tell me, has your
lordship ever heard of a certain Master Hugh Peters, of Lime?”

“Peters!” gasped the secretary, with a sudden start of horror.

“Aye,” answered the officer slowly. “A worthy man who can give much
valuable information concerning the manner of Ferguson’s escape, about
which there has been so great a pother in London. And, my lord, he is
not the only man who knows the secret.”

With a sudden cry the secretary caught the chief justice’s arm; his face
was livid, he trembled from head to foot.

“My lord,” he cried, “there is no help for it, this man must go. There
is no safety else. He knows—Heavens! what does he not know? My lord,
Colonel Kirke may be dangerous, but he is disgraced, and he hath but
little evidence, and ’tis but a matter of bribery after all. But this
man—oh, my lord! let him go, out of the country with him, and Heaven
grant we may never see him more.”

Jeffreys turned and stared at the terrified man, and slowly the fear
passed into his own heart. Fiercely he clutched the arms of his chair,
his eyes rolled, he moved his head from side to side, as one hounded to
death, and seeing no escape. Then with a loud cry of rage and despair,
he sprang to his feet, and pointed wildly to the door.

“Go!” he cried. “Go! You are free! But have a care. For an you come
within my power again, by God! you shall pay for this. You shall die a
thousand times; at the cart-tail, at the post, at the gallows, at the
stake. You shall feel a thousand torments, till hell itself shall show
more merciful. I will——”

“Silence!” shouted the captain sternly. “Peace, fool, I will hear no
more o’ such vapourings. I go now, but first, mark you this, my Lord
Jeffreys, see to it you carry out our contract to the smallest detail,
for should harm befall me and mine thro’ your doing, I vow to heaven, my
lord, I will not hang alone. So, an you value your own neck, leave us
in peace.”

For one moment Jeffreys stood gasping open-mouthed, gazing at the
speaker in a fury of impotent rage, then he suddenly collapsed and
sinking into his chair, he fell forward across the table and burst into
bitter tears.

But Captain Protheroe waited no longer, but tucking the passport into
his breast, proceeded calmly to the street. Nor did he pause until he
had passed out of the north gate and left the town behind him.

“Phew!” he muttered, wiping his forehead, “I’ve played high in my time,
but never for such stakes as these. Heaven help me! what a hand I held,
and God forgive me, but how I played it!”

Captain Protheroe walked on rapidly across the dark field-path which led
to the little hamlet of Mallet. It was already late, and he did not
wish to keep his friends in suspense longer than was needful.

Suddenly he paused, as he became aware of a confused clamour of sounds
proceeding from the direction in which, he was going, but only for a
moment, then with a sudden misgiving he commenced to run rapidly forward
through the darkness.

The cottage where the fugitives were to await him lay on the outskirts
of the hamlet, separated from the cluster of other cottages by some
fields, and the sounds, now becoming more distinct, came from that
direction.

A confused murmur of voices met his ears, punctuated by a succession of
heavy blows of musket-butts (so he rightly guessed) upon the cottage
door; then followed the crash of a door falling, more shouting, above
which he could distinguish a voice raised loud in authority, and then
the clash of two encountering swords.

A moment later he reached the gateway of the croft within which the
cottage stood.

There he found a group of peasants, held in check, in spite of much
shouting and menacing gestures, by a small body of mounted troopers.
Nearer the cottage were some unmounted men, those evidently who had been
responsible for the attack upon the door, one or two of whom carried
lanterns, and by the combined light this afforded, and that which
streamed from the dismantled doorway, there was revealed to Captain
Protheroe the incident which formed the central feature of the picture.

At the doorway of the cottage two men were fighting. The swordsman with
his back to the doorway was Sir Ralph. With white set face, and his
breath coming in quick gasps, ’twas clear he was sore pressed, and
wellnigh spent.

His opponent, who was slowly but surely driving him to retreat into the
passage-way, was a small, dapper little man, in the uniform of an
officer of the King’s troops. He fought with a cool precision, and ever
and anon as the fight proceeded, he exclaimed admiringly:

“Well thrust, sir, well indeed. Keep back, men, let be. ’Tis a fair
fight.”

For a few moments Captain Protheroe stood in amazement, watching this
extraordinary scene, then suddenly realising that unless he quickly
intervened Ralph must be overcome, he thrust his way past the startled
troopers, and ere they could prevent him, seized the little officer
round the middle and lifted him aside.

The latter, with an exclamation of anger, wrenched himself free, and
turned upon the intruder.

“And by what right, sir——” he began furiously; but ere he could get
further in his speech his hand was seized in a hearty grasp, and Captain
Protheroe broke out eagerly:

“Harrington! Will! You! By all the powers, but luck is with us
wherever we go. This is splendid.”

“Miles Protheroe!” cried the little man in delight, but restraining
himself suddenly, he stared hard at the captain. “What are you doing
here, Protheroe?” he asked sharply. “D—— me, I had forgot, you are a
rebel, too.”

But the other’s light laugh quickly reassured him.

“No more a rebel than are these, my friends, here,” he cried cheerily.
“Look”—and he handed his passport to Harrington—”that is all right,
isn’t it? By Jove! what a mercy I arrived in time; you were about to
make a pretty mess of things, Will.”

“Plague take that meddlesome pedlar, who brought us out with such a
cock-and-bull story as this,” cried the little officer indignantly.
“Here have I been forced to put your friends—and a lady, too—to most
distressing inconvenience and—er—danger, and all to no purpose. Alas!
I doubt she will never forgive me. Plague on the fellow! where is he?”

But the pedlar, who had followed them to the cottage, and having given
information had then served as guide to the patrol, was not to be found.
He was quick to appreciate that the game again had gone against and had
vanished into the night.

“But what were you after when I arrived, Will?” asked Captain Protheroe
with a laugh.

“This gentleman thought fit to hold the doorway, against me. I—I
was—-er—about to remove him.”

Then he turned politely to Ralph, who had sunk wearily into a seat
within the doorway, whence he smiled faintly up at Barbara as she came
anxiously from an adjoining room to his side, to ascertain whether he
had received any hurt.

“I must apologise, sir,” he said with grave politeness, “for so rudely
forcing myself upon your company. ’Twas a misconception, which I trust
you will pardon. But I fear I can never hope the lady will be equally
forgiving.”

Barbara looked up with a bright smile.

“Indeed, sir,” she said softly, “we should rather be grateful to you,
for the generous manner in which you conducted the attack. We owe you
thanks for your courtesy in staying your men from firing upon the house
when you discovered I was here, and for your chivalry in insisting upon
fighting Sir Ralph single-handed.”

The little man flushed with pleasure.

“Faith! madame,” he cried gallantly; “’twas nothing. However hard
pressed a man may be, nothing would excuse discourtesy to a lady. And
for the rest, ’twas a most enjoyable fight whose interruption is
condoned only by the acquaintance thus created.”

Captain Protheroe laughed lightly.

“Zounds! Will, what would the colonel say to your new methods of rebel
hunting, eh? He is ever the same, Mistress Barbara; he rides the
country with a cumbersome escort, yet doth all the work himself.”

Captain Harrington again turned to his recent adversary, who still
leaned back, with half-closed eyes.

“I trust, sir,” he said anxiously, “I have not been so excessively
clumsy as to wound you in our affray. ’Tis a thing I never do, unless
mortally.”

Ralph smiled faintly.

“Rest assured, sir, your hand is still sure.”

“Sir Ralph Trevellyan is but recovering from a fever,” interposed
Barbara gently; “the encounter hath exhausted him.”

“I am well enough, Barbara,” exclaimed Ralph, struggling to his feet.

“Indeed, you are not,” she answered firmly. “Sit still while I fetch
some water.”

But now Captain Harrington was all contrition. He flew for water, he
sent his men for wine. He hovered over Barbara with most assiduous
attentions, while she ministered to her exhausted companion.

“What may I do now?” implored the little officer, when Barbara had
finished her task; “what may I do to further atone for my mistake?
Where are you bound for now, eh?”

“We are on our road to Durford; it lies north of Taunton, you know; but
we can hardly set out to-night. Is there any place hereabouts fit to
spend the night in?” asked Captain Protheroe doubtfully.

“My quarters are but five minutes’ distance from here,” cried Captain
Harrington eagerly; “if I dared hope to be so greatly honoured.”

“Oh, no,” cried Barbara quickly; “indeed, we cannot take your rooms.”

“Alack! madame, I feared ’twas too great an honour to hope for,” sighed
the little man mournfully. “After my error, too. And yet, if it might
have been——”

“Nay, sir,” interposed Barbara, somewhat puzzled how to meet such
unexpected humility. “If you will indeed be so generous——”

“It will be the best thing we can do,” interposed Captain Protheroe.
“And to-morrow, perchance, you can lend us mounts as far as Durford.”

“Willingly, willingly,” was the eager reply.

“Then let us be off. Where is Nannie?”

“I’m here, Master Miles,” answered the old lady, calmly entering from
the adjoining room where she had been soothing the terror of the
bed-ridden owner of the cottage.

“Ah! that’s well. We must be moving. Set the old fellow’s mind at ease
and come along. You shall come back to him to-morrow, an you choose.”

All was quiet when they came out of the cottage.

“Straight along that path, Miles!” cried Captain Harrington eagerly,
pointing out the direction; “you can’t miss the way. I will escort the
lady.”

“Not so,” answered Captain Protheroe resolutely, putting Barbara’s cloak
about her; “I will escort Mistress Barbara. You can best lead the way.”

Captain Harrington glanced for a moment at the speaker, then with a deep
sigh, and a mournful shake of the head, he shrugged his shoulders, and
taking Ralph’s arm, turned along the path towards the village.

“Alack!” he muttered to himself, “Alack! The early bird!”

“Mistress Barbara,” pleaded Captain Protheroe, as they followed the
others along the narrow way, “Mistress Barbara, you have not said one
word to me since I arrived.”

“I had nothing to say,” she answered, smiling. Then she added softly,
“I knew you would come.”

And with that he strove to be content.

Next day they rode merrily to Durford. At early morning they set out,
when the white mist curled in the valley, and the russet trees,
sun-kissed on the hills, gleamed like fiery tongues of flame above a
silver sea; through the bright noonday they rode, when the mists like
evil witches of the night had vanished before the sunbeams, the broad
earth lay smiling up into the deep blue heavens, and the myriad
creatures of earth and sky raised their tiny voices in harmonious _Te
Deum_ for the glory of life. Through a world of joy and sunshine they
rode, until early in the afternoon they climbed the last hill and saw in
the valley below the red-roofed cottages of the village and the tall
grey chimneys of the Manor House hiding among the burnished leaves.

And from that point their ride was a royal progress.

Like lightning the news spread about the village that Mistress Barbara
was come home. Cottage doors were flung open, women and children rushed
headlong into the street to meet her. They crowded round her to kiss
her hands, to shower greetings upon her; the women wept, like the
foolish creatures they are; all the village was agog with joy. And
Barbara, with shining eyes, laughed and waved her hand, and rode through
them like a queen. At length they reached the park gates, and there was
Cicely, her ribbons streaming in the wind, her hands outstretched in
eager welcome, running full-pace to meet them.

Barbara leapt from her saddle, and with a sudden queer little sob rushed
into her cousin’s arms.

There they stood crying and kissing, while the villagers flung up their
caps and laughed with delight, and the bells broke out into a wild peal
of music because Barbara Winslow was come home.

Presently Cicely released Barbara and ran towards Ralph with a world of
delighted greeting in her face, and as she took his hands her eyes fell
on Captain Protheroe. For a moment she stared at him as one amazed, and
then slowly the first bright joy died in her face, her cheeks flushed
crimson, and her eyes filled with misery and shame. Yet he, guessing
nought, wondered at her glance, and felt himself unwelcome.

But Barbara saw nothing, her joy to be home again filled all her
thoughts. She seized her cousin’s arm, and broke into an eager chatter
of explanations, rejoicings and questionings, till Cicely was fain to
laugh in sheer bewilderment.

“Softly, softly, Bab,” she cried; “I must have it all from the
beginning. Come in, and tell me all. You are safe, and you are here,
and that is all I care.”

And so, Barbara, waving farewell to her followers, came at last to the
house, and the tale was told.

Some hours later Captain Protheroe was alone in the large hall of the
Manor House. Explanations had been given, questions answered; the
excitement in the village had died away, and all was still and peaceful,
with the sweet peace of a September evening.

He had been for some time alone.

Ralph, yielding to Barbara’s insistence, had retired for a rest after
his long ride, and the two cousins had early slipped away together to
revel in a long talk.

He sat in one of the deep window-seats, gazing idly at the fading glows
of the sunset, dreaming of the night when he had last stood there and
struggled against the influence of the girl, who now was all the world
to him. And as he looked back and thought on all she had been to him
since that night, he wished with all his heart that Time would turn his
hour-glass, and let him live those days again. Nay, give him back but
three sweet hours again, and he would be content to endure even
banishment from her side, with such a memory to soothe his pain. So he
mused, concerned not that to many the shadow indeed proves dearer than
the substance, nor that he whose memories are tender Is ofttimes happier
than he who in the attainment loses the remembrance forever.

He was disturbed in his dreaming by the sound of his own name cried
softly, and, turning, he found Lady Cicely standing close beside him,
her hands tightly clasped, her head half turned away.

“Captain Protheroe,” she said in a strained voice; “I—I have somewhat to
say to you.”

“To me?” he asked wonderingly. Then catching sudden sight of her face,
he started back. “In heaven’s name, Lady Cicely, what is it?” he cried.
“Is Mistress Barbara——”

“Oh! Barbara is well,” interrupted the lady quickly, with the faintest
attempt at a smile. “’Tis of yourself I must speak, yourself and me.”

He placed a chair for her, then took up his position opposite, leaning
against the window frame, and looking down on her in wonderment.

Then, seeing she hesitated to speak, he asked gravely:

“In what have I been so unfortunate as to offend your ladyship?”

She glanced up in distress.

“Oh! ’tis not that. ’Tis I who have offended you. I have done you
grievous wrong.’

“Done me wrong, madame?” he asked, smiling down at her, marvelling at
the small troubles with which women love to torment their minds. “Nay,
an it be so, madame, ’tis forgiven. Prithee, think no more on’t.”

“Oh! but I must,” she cried wildly; “I have thought on it day and night
since ’twas committed; thought on it every moment till I felt I must go
mad an I could not see you to confess to’t.”

“Nay, madame, indeed it was not worth your thought, whatever it be,” he
answered gallantly. “That you have given me place in your gentle
thoughts should be sufficient atonement.”

But she, covering her face, burst on a sudden into bitter weeping.

“Oh, do not talk so!” she cried. “You do not know. You do not know.”

His face grew grave. He took a step forward and leaned over her in deep
distress.

“Nay, madame, I entreat you.” he said gently; “indeed, you must not
weep for such a thing. Come”—he coaxed lightly—”what is this grievous
wrong? Why, you could scarce be more distressed had you betrayed me.”

Then she dropped her hands and faced him.

“You have said it,” she cried in a dry voice; “’twas indeed I who
betrayed you.”

He started from her and stood upright, looking down on her in amazement,
in slowly gathering wrath.

“’Tis true,” she sobbed; “I betrayed you to my Lord Jeffreys.”

“You did?”

“Yes. I—came even from so doing when I met you—that night in Taunton.”

“That night! And yet, madame, having done so, you allowed me to go on,
without word of warning, into the trap which you yourself had set?”

His face was in the shadow, but she trembled at the suppressed anger in
his tone.

“Is this true, madame?” he continued sharply.

She had no answer save a sob.

“And may I ask,” he continued presently in the same stern tone, “may I
ask your reason for—er—taking such an active interest in my affairs?”

“I—I deemed you had betrayed Barbara,” she answered timidly.

“Your suspicion was as unjust as your revenge,” he cried angrily. Then
he checked himself, and presently continued coldly, “Your pardon,
madame, I forgot myself. I believe,”—he drawled with a slight sneer—”in
affairs of honour, ’tis not—customary to judge women by the standard
usually applied to men.”

Cicely winced at his words, but sobbed on helplessly, making no attempt
to defend herself. Captain Protheroe walked slowly to the far end of
the room and having partially mastered his anger, slowly returned to her
side.

“Come, madame,” he said sharply, “there is no need to weep more about
the matter. The thing is done; there is an end on’t.”

“I—I did it for Barbara,” she sobbed, stung by his tone to seek for some
self-justification.

“Ah!” His tone was startled, questioning.

“Your life was to be the price of her freedom.”

“Her freedom!”

“Yes. But, fool that I was, as well as traitor, they took my
information and cheated me of the reward.”

She burst into a fresh passion of sobs.

But now all trace of anger had left his face, he was eager, glad.

“But, Lady Cicely,” he cried, “this is, indeed, a different matter; I
had misunderstood. You were justified, perfectly. What a villain I was
to doubt you. Madame, can you ever forgive me?”

Cicely stared at him in amazement.

“Nay, sir, I see no difference. Your words were just.”

“Just! madame, they were shameful, infamous! I cannot hope to win your
pardon for them. Why, Lady Cicely,” he continued with boyish eagerness,
“I am grateful to you for your action, most grateful. I count it the
highest honour to have been privileged to serve Mistress Barbara, for,”
he added softly, “I would gladly die a thousand deaths to shield her
from pain. I beseech you, madame, be comforted. ’Twas no betrayal, I
was a most willing victim at the sacrifice.”

But though she smiled faintly Cicely still wept.

“Ah! ’tis kind to say so,” she cried, shaking her head, “But for me—for
me who betrayed you! What respect, what honour have I left me?”

“Ah! madame, would my tongue had been cut out ere ever I spake those
words,” he cried miserably.

“Nay, the words were nought. But the deed! The deed remains the same.
What must you think of me? Nay, what must I think of myself?”

Bitterly she wept, and he looked down on her in helpless despair.

Then he bent over her tenderly, and gently took her hand.

“Lady Cicely,” he said softly, “what would you think of me, had I
betrayed you to save Sir Rupert?”

“Ah!” Her sobs were arrested. She looked at him a moment, then gave a
long sigh of slow-dawning comprehension.

“Yes, madame! Would you look upon me as worthy your contempt? Would
you not rather be glad?”

“Yes! Yes!” she whispered eagerly.

“And for the rest,” he continued gently, “’tis well enow, for Colonel
Lovelace to write that love be little if honour be not more, yet there
may be a love so self-forgetting that a man counts himself as nothing in
comparison with it, and would gladly give his dearest part, even his
honour, to serve his beloved. ’Twas with such a love, Lady Cicely, you
loved your cousin, and by Heaven! she is worthy of it.”

Cicely smiled and shook her head.

“These be somewhat indiscreet doctrines, sir,” she said.

“Nay, madame, when was love noted for discretion?” he answered, smiling
at her. “And, moreover, if your act were a betrayal, ’twas a right
courageous one. I warrant me, ’twas no easy task for you, madame, to
play the traitor.”

She looked at him gratefully.

“How is it you understand so well?” she asked.

“I’ faith, Lady Cicely,” he answered with a sudden smile, “I fear me my
record is not overclean. Not a month since, in this very room, I
entered into a bargain, hardly consistent with my honour.”

“And that, too, was for Barbara,” she murmured softly.

“Even so. She has required much of us, has she not?” he continued,
smiling. “Yet whoso is greatly loved, to her must much be given.”

“And you do not regret it?”

“Regret, madame?”

“It hath cost you much.”

“Maybe, but it has won me more.” Then he added, half to himself, “For
whatsoever befall me now, in this world or the next, I have at least had
my hour of heaven.”

There was a silence, broken only by Barbara’s voice, singing in the room
above.

Cicely rose to her feet.

“She is coming, we must go to supper.”

Then she turned and laid her hand upon his arm—”You have been so good to
me, Captain Protheroe,” she said gently. “And what I may do in return,
I gladly will. You love Barbara! Ah! I could tell you so much, so
much, for who knows so well as a woman how women may be wooed. Could a
man but have that knowledge, he might win every maid in Christendom.
Therefore”—she smiled—”perchance ’tis better withheld. And for this
present matter—certes! methinks you are doing very fairly well for
yourself. Only remember ’Woman loveth a bold wooer.’ Let there be no
despair. More love is lost by want of hope than ever was won by
diffidence.”

“Alas! Lady Cicely! How can a man such as I hope greatly to succeed?”

“Tut, sir, we women are for the most part easy of credence. An a man
tell us oft enough and resolutely enough that we need him, we needs must
be convinced at last.”

“Indeed, Lady Cicely, you give me hope. If ’twas e’en thus Sir Rupert
won you——”

“Rupert!” she laughed; “nay, sir, ’twas of ordinary mortals I spoke.
There was small need for Rupert to assure me that I loved him. But
come, we must to supper.”

She led him to the adjoining room where Ralph already awaited them.

And presently Barbara came down and joined them there. She was attired
in an amber brocade, and wore her jewels; her hair towered high in a
mass of wavy curls. After ten days of vagabondage she revelled in the
luxury of an exquisite toilet, and every detail of her appearance was
perfect.

Captain Protheroe had seen her in many garbs, in many phases, but never
before had she seemed so queenly, so alluring, so worthy of a man’s
absolute homage, and as they looked upon her, each man gave a gasp of
hopeless adoration.

She was in the highest spirits, glowing with happiness, yet wearing
withal a certain air of gracious dignity, which suited well the mistress
of the Manor.

The two men feasted their eyes upon her face, hung upon her words. And
to each she talked with equal friendliness and vivacity. But Cicely,
who watched her closely, noted that in her manner toward Ralph there
lurked a certain tenderness, of pity or remorse, while towards Captain
Protheroe she seemed more distant, more reserved. And though she met
Ralph’s looks of admiration with a merry open smile, yet when she raised
her eyes to Captain Protheroe, and read the worship in his glance, she
blushed faintly and the lashes quickly fell. So noted Cicely, and
learned her cousin’s secret from her face.

Yet from the men these signs were hidden, alternately they hoped, and
then they despaired. Only as they felt the power of her presence, his
passion cried to each to win her spite of all, and they trembled at the
fascination of her beauty.

There was much to talk of during the meal, for Cicely would hear each
detail of their adventures, and on her side related all she knew of
Robert Wilcox’s part in the affair.

“I would I could see him to thank him,” said Barbara; “’tis a courageous
youth. And I fear I was—er—somewhat curt when last we parted.”

“More than curt, Mistress Barbara,” answered the Captain, smiling; “some
might even say exceedingly obstinate. We were well-nigh reduced to
desperate measures, Lady Cicely, to bend her to our will.”

Barbara laughed.

“I am glad you did not so far forget yourselves,” she cried saucily;
“but I trust no harm hath befallen good Master Lane on my account, Cis.”

“No, he is safe, and in ignorance of the share he had in the matter, for
so I advised. He is so stout a royalist, so well-known and honoured by
the governor, and all the Tory gentlemen of the district, that upon his
denial of any complicity in the matter, he was honourably acquitted, and
the inquiry dropped. ’Tis true, some do say that money changed hands
ere the incident was closed, but an it be so we will make it up to him
anon. He is safe, and the escape remains a mystery.”

“I warrant me the fiery-headed youth passed one or two anxious days
while the inquiry was pending,” remarked Captain Protheroe, smiling.

“Nay, neither he nor Prue are wont to expect trouble before it comes;
they were so triumphant over their success they thought but little of
possible consequences. And I doubt not Robert found ample reward at his
mistress’s hands.”

“’Tis pity so brave and adroit a lad is not a soldier,” said Barbara.

“Aye, so says Prue. And indeed ’tis his own desire.”

“Would we could help him to his wish.”

“He shall be helped,” answered the captain quickly; “an you take
interest in his fate, Mistress Barbara. When I get the command I expect,
in Holland, I will send for him, and see to his advancement with all my
heart.”

Barbara repaid, with a grateful glance, this ready offer to fulfil her
wish, and so the matter was decided.

They sat long over their meal, talking over what had befallen them in
their wanderings, discussing plans for their future, wondering on the
life that awaited them abroad.

At length, when the evening was far advanced, Barbara pushed back her
chair and cried to her cousin that ’twas time for rest. But ere she
rose she filled her glass and looked up with a merry smile.

“Come!” she cried, “here we sit together safe after all our troubles,
and it seems ’tis occasion for a toast, and yet I know not exactly what
it should be.”

“May I not give the toast, madame?” asked the captain gravely.

“Certes, an you will. I feel I must drink to something.”

“Nay, you must not join in this,” he answered with a smile. Then
springing to his feet and raising his glass, he turned and faced her
boldly:

“What think you of this toast, Sir Ralph?” he cried: “I drink to the
bravest comrade in misfortune, the sweetest companion in peace, and at
all times the most courageous of women——”

“Barbara Winslow!”

Ralph sprang to his feet, and for a moment the two men stood together,
their glasses raised aloft, looking down with adoration where she sat
blushing and laughing in all the pride of her beauty. Then crying her
name again, they drank the toast, and with a simultaneous impulse turned
and dashed their glasses against the wainscot, so that the shining
fragments fell like showers upon the floor.

The moment of enthusiasm passed, the two men turned sharply and glared
at one another, with a silent challenge in their eyes.

Cicely saw the look and trembled, and deeming it wisdom at once to
remove this apple of discord from the feast, she rose quickly, and
smiling good-night to her companions, carried her cousin off to bed.

When they were left together the two men seated themselves at the table,
but there was a silence between them, and a shadow brooded over the
room.

At length Ralph pushed aside his glass, and leant across the table
towards his companion with the air of one who has determined on his
course.

“Whither are you bound now, Protheroe?” he began. “What are your plans?”

Captain Protheroe hesitated a moment.

“There is no chance for me in England yet,” he said slowly, “though
General Churchill would give me his help. But there is no room in the
army for Kirke and myself—at present. No, I shall to Holland, I have a
cousin there already, and take service with the Prince of Orange, he is
a man to be served.”

There was a moment’s pause. Then Ralph continued with a would-be
careless air.

“Doubtless you will set off to-morrow. I will escort Mistress Barbara
to her brother, and we need—er—burden you with our company no longer.”

Captain Protheroe stared for a moment at his companion.

“For the present,” he answered coldly, “my way lies with yours.”

Ralph eyed him angrily.

“Pardon me, sir, but in Mistress Barbara’s interests, it were wiser you
should leave her, now your company is no longer necessary to her
safety.”

“Heavens! man, what would you imply?” asked the officer sharply.

“Your escape and wanderings with this lady, the whole story of your
intercourse together, is enough to set many scandalous tongues wagging
about her name. The sooner this intercourse ceases, the better.”

“If that be your fear, then, on the contrary, the longer I remain at her
side, the better,” answered the captain drily. “Seeing that tongues do
not long speak scandalously of a lady whom I have the honour to
protect.”

“Captain Protheroe,” cried Ralph sharply, “I were loth to quarrel with
you, but if you will take no hint, I must e’en speak plainly. This lady
is nothing, can be nothing to you. After what hath passed betwixt you,
part I know and part I guess, your attentions but trouble and embarrass
her; nay, more, they are an insult. I insist that you at once cease to
burden her with your company.”

“You insist?” repeated Captain Protheroe slowly.

“I do. An it be necessary I will prove my right to do so.” He touched
the hilt of his sword menacingly.

Captain Protheroe rose to his feet.

“You are mad,” he cried angrily; “’tis impossible for me to fight you.”

“Indeed!” scoffed Ralph, “would you have me brand you coward then?”

Captain Protheroe laughed scornfully.

“Bah! Perchance that would prove no easy matter. Seeing that those who
know me would know it for a falsehood, and those who do not know me
could be taught. No, Sir Ralph, I will not fight you. And for the
other matter——” he paused. “You say that my attentions are a burden to
Mistress Barbara?”

“I do. And that both for the sake of her fair name, and her own peace
of mind, you must leave her.”

“And I think, sir, you are mistaken. I will only leave Mistress Barbara
at her express command.”

“Since you know well she is too courteous ever to urge her way,” sneered
Ralph sharply.

Again there was silence. The captain was thinking now on all that had
passed betwixt Barbara and himself; remembering her sweet trustful ways,
her gentle words; treasuring that one golden hour together in the
forest, ere discord had sent this man to part their souls.

Then he rose to his feet and faced Ralph, eyeing him keenly, hanging on
his answer.

“Tell me, Sir Ralph,” he asked abruptly, “has Mistress Barbara given you
the right to protect her?”

See now how strange a thing is a man’s love for woman, since it may
inspire him alike to deeds of highest purity or words of deepest shame.

After one moment’s pause, Ralph set honour behind him, and answered
quietly:

“I have that right.”

But even as Ralph spoke the words, a wild passion leapt into Captain
Protheroe’s eyes, a passion of hatred, of jealousy, of unbelief.

“Now, by Heavens! Sir Ralph,” he shouted fiercely; “I believe you lie.”

“Have a care, sir,” cried Ralph sharply; “for one who will not fight,
you are strangely free with your words. ’Tis easy to speak that for
which you may not be called in question.”

“Man, you will drive me mad. ’Tis impossible that I should fight you.”

“Even with this to warm your blood?” Sir Ralph flung the contents of
his glass into his companion’s face.

Then the last shred of resolution to avoid a quarrel vanished. That had
passed between them which could not be overlooked. Captain Protheroe
drew his sword and bowed stiffly to his opponent, the gleam of the
death-harbinger in his eyes.

“It is enough, sir,” he said furiously; “I am at your service.”

But Ralph was now the calmer of the two.

“’Tis impossible here,” he cried; “we should be interrupted. If it will
suit your convenience I will meet you at sunrise to-morrow in the meadow
behind the stables. There we shall be undisturbed.”

“As you will. I am at your service whensoever you choose to appoint.”

So they bowed and parted for the night, with murder in their hearts.
While above in the sweet calm of her chamber, the cause of their quarrel
lay dreaming peacefully, innocent of all wrong, save only of a heart too
tender to give pain, and of a face too fair to leave a man his peace.

Alas! for a woman, since though many seek, she loves but one. Alas! for
a woman, since if she too quickly perceive and ward off love, false
tongues cry shame upon her vanity, but, if not perceiving, she foster
it, then belike must a man’s life be laid to her charge, aye, or a man’s
soul.