E-text prepared by Al Haines
A Tale of Forest and Sea
Author of "Red Dickon the Outlaw," "The Fen Robbers," etc., etc.
[Frontispiece: Dolly stood near the fire, her face rosy with the heat]
Thomas Nelson and Sons London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and New York 1911
I. The Man in Black II. The Plotters III. Two Friends IV. Johnnie Morgan takes a Walk V. Master Windybank VI. A Sinister Meeting VII. In the Toils VIII. Master Windybank walks abroad IX. The Hunt X. Master Windybank rebels XI. Darkness and the River XII. Snaring a Flock of Night Ravens XIII. A Double Fight XIV. What happened in Westbury Steeple XV. A Letter from Court XVI. To London Town XVII. Sir Walter as Chaperon XVIII. Three Broken Mariners XIX. Paignton Rob's Story XX. Rob dines at "Ye Swanne" XXI. Morgan goes to Whitehall XXII. The Queen XXIII. Johnnie sees many Sights XXIV. Two Chance Wayfarers XXV. Brother Basil XXVI. All on a bright March Morning XXVII. In Plymouth XXVIII. The Parlour of the "Blue Dolphin" XXIX. The Widow's House XXX. Ho! for the Spanish Main XXXI. In the Bay of San Joseph XXXII. A Glimpse of the Fabled City XXXIII. Wandering in a Maze XXXIV. Flood and Fever XXXV. A Foe XXXVI. The Attack on the Village XXXVII. Council Fires in Two Places XXXVIII. The Way back XXXIX. John Oxenham's Creek XL. A Haven of Peace XLI. The Trap XLII. Captives XLIII. In Panama XLIV. The Trial XLV. For Faith and Country! XLVI. The Galley Slaves XLVII. Hernando speaks XLVIII. The Revolt of the Slaves XLIX. Eastward Ho! L. Home LI. The Forest again—and the Sea
List of Illustrations
Dolly stood near the fire, her face rosy with the heat . . Frontispiece
The odds were hopelessly against him.
THE MAN IN BLACK.
The river-path along the Severn shore at Gatcombe was almost knee-deep with turbid water, and only a post here and there showed where river ordinarily ended and firm land began. Fishers and foresters stood in the pelting rain and buffeting wind anxiously calculating what havoc the sudden summer storm might work, helpless themselves to put forth a hand to save anything from its fury. Stout doors and firm casements (both were needed in the river-side hamlet) bent with the fury of the sou'-wester that beat upon them. The tide roared up the narrowing estuary like a mill-race, and the gale tore off the tops of the waves, raised them with the lashing raindrops, and hurled both furiously against everything that fringed the shore. Gatcombe Pill leapt and plunged muddily between its high, red banks, and the yellow tide surged up the opening and held back the seething waters like a dam. There was black sky above, and many-coloured earth and water below.
The lading jetty against the village only appeared at odd moments above the tumult of waters, and a couple of timber ships that lay on the north side, partially loaded, were plunging and leaping at their anchor cables like two dogs at the end of their chains. Great oaken logs bobbed up and down like corks, or raced with the current upstream; the product of many weeks' timber-cutting in the forest would be scattered as driftwood from Gloucester to the shores of Devon and Wales.
On the high bank above Gatcombe, one other man, half hidden by the thick trees, braved the fury of the storm. There was nothing of the fisher or forester about him; the pale, worn face and the tall, lean figure soberly clad in black betokened the monk or the scholar, but claimed no kinship with them that toiled in the woodlands or won a living from the dangerous sea. Leaning against a giant beech that rocked in wild rhythm with the storm, he watched the wind and tide at their work of devastation, an odd smile of satisfaction playing about the corners of his thin lips.
"A hundred candles to St. James for this tempest!" he murmured. "If the ships do but break loose and get aground, I will tramp Christendom for the money to build him a church." But though the man in black watched the river for the space of two hours longer, his hopes of utter destruction were unrealized; the cables held, the rain ceased, the wind abated, and the tide began to run seawards once more. Bit by bit the jetty rose above the swirling waters. Inshore the sands of the river-bed were uncovered, and the fishers and wharfmen swarmed along them and on the pier, saving from the sea the logs of oak that were within reach. For a while the man on the cliff watched them; then he turned aside into the dripping recesses of the forest. "Comfort thyself," he said, tapping his bosom as he walked; "the omens are good. What water hath commenced, the fire shall finish!"
Almost upon the instant a sturdy figure broke from the bushes above Gatcombe Pill and hurried along the cliff towards the harbour. Deep-chested, full-throated, weather-stained, compacted of brawn and sinew, he looked the ruddy-faced, daring sailor-man, every inch of him. From crown to toe he was clad in homely gray; but if, on the one hand, the ass peeps out from the borrowed lion's skin, so will royalty shine through fustian; and the newcomer had the air of a king among men. He hallooed to the ships, and then hastily scrambled down the cliff.
Only the groaning of the trees and rustling of the undergrowth hid the footfalls of the man in black from the ears of the man in gray. He was looking for him, but the time when they should meet was not yet come.
The morrow after the storm was windless and genial; the morning stepped out from the east bearing the promise of a fine day; the tide was running strongly to the sea. At Newnham the ferryman stood knee-deep in the water washing his boat and hoping for a fare. The man in black came down and was carried across to Arlingham. He asked many questions concerning the tides and the sands. The water ran like a mill-race round the Nab, and the stranger crossed himself when he entered the boat, and again when the ferryman took him on his back to carry him through the shallow water and the mud. He paid the penny for the passage, and then vanished quickly into the trees that shut in the village of Arlingham from the river. The boatman watched him curiously and fearfully; and when he was no longer visible he shivered, for a cold chill was running down his spine. "Seems as though I'd carried the Evil One," he muttered; "he may halloo till he's as hoarse as his black children the crows ere I trust myself on the waters with him again." He waded to his boat and rowed rapidly across stream once more.
The man in black gave neither thought nor look to the ferryman, but strode along the woodland paths like one who had not a moment to spare. The broad Roman way stretched in a bee-line from the eastern shore to the village, but the wayfarer never once set foot upon it. Swiftness and secrecy marked every movement. The sun had been above the horizon scarce an hour when the mysterious stranger knocked at the door of a farmhouse that lay about a mile from the village and northwards towards the river. It was opened on the instant by the farmer himself, and barred and chained again.
In the kitchen were four men, two of whom wore black doublet and hosen, black caps with a black feather, and were sallow-looking counterparts of the last arrival. They stood up, bowed gravely, and sat down again without speaking.
"You have kept good tryst, my sons; did any man see you?"
"Not even the eye of the sun lighted upon us; we walked by the stars," was the reply.
"Good! Now, your tidings.—Thine first, Basil."
The younger of the two men clad in black looked up. Hitherto he had maintained a strict silence, his eyes fixed on the floor. The face that was lifted to the morning light was not a pleasant one. It was pasty, colourless, and shrunken as though from long fasting, but the eyes glittered in their dull sockets like a pair of black diamonds. "Fanatic" was written large all over him. He was a monk released from his vows for the performance of special duties. His tidings were given slowly in short, terse sentences.
"Admiral Drake is at Gatcombe."
The leader nodded. "I know it; I saw him yesterday," he said.
"He hath wind of our plot and a description of your person. Sir Walter Raleigh comes up from Bristol on this morning's tide. 'Tis given out that he is visiting the Throckmortons, from which family he took his wife. The truth is, that he comes to assist the admiral against us."
"Doth he bring troops?"
"No, but the admiral hath a royal warrant empowering him to call the free foresters and miners to arms if need should arise."
"That is nothing."
"I have a list of those families that still profess the true faith. Almost to a man they place their country before their Church, and prefer to fight for their heretic Queen rather than the Holy Mother of Heaven."
"The fiery pit yawns for them, my son!"
"But there are true sheep amongst these herds of goats. Two have I brought with me. Their eyes are opened. Wisdom and far-seeing dwells with them. They value not the things of this world and the comforts of the body. They are sworn to serve the Holy Church to the death." The speaker turned to two rather hang-dog fellows who were squatted beside the hearth. "Kneel, my brothers," he cried, "and receive a blessing from Father Jerome, a saint amongst men!"
"Tush! my son," said Father Jerome; "thou dost rate my poor worth a thousand times too highly. The blessing I bestow is greater far than he is who bestows it; the gift is greater than the giver."
The whole company fell upon their knees, and Father Jerome towered above them. There was cunning in his sallow face, cruelty in the corners of his mouth. He held his hands aloft and spoke low and mysteriously.
"When the Holy Father called me and entrusted me with my present mission he gave me his blessing thrice repeated, and bestowed upon me the power of passing on that blessing to others. The blessing then that ye receive at my hands is the blessing of the Head of the Church. Kings have begged for it and have not obtained it; but ye are greater than kings." The disguised priest—for such was Father Jerome—placed his hands on them one by one and murmured a long Latin invocation. At the end of this he addressed the farmer and the two foresters, who had been beguiled into the plot, speaking in plain, forcible English.
"Your country," he exclaimed, "wallows in heresy and other deadly sins. For years hath it openly flouted and resisted the Church. The hour of retribution is near. By sword and by fire must her sins be purged. The instruments of vengeance and punishment are appointed, and the least of these am I. Before the sun hath run another yearly circle through the heavens a faithful prince shall hold power in this land. Many who are now in high estate shall be flung down, and there are some humble ones that shall be mightily exalted. Think of that, my sons, and be true to the trust reposed in you!"
Father Jerome raised up his kneeling audience with a well-chosen word of praise, promise, or encouragement for each one. Then he bade the farmer set meat and ale before the two foresters, and took his two clerical spies to the window-seat, where he conversed with them in low tones.
"Thy two recruits, son Basil, are not overburdened with brains."
"The better shall they serve our purpose, my father. We want blind tools rather than thinking men. I have them in the hollow of my hand. Thews and sinews are theirs, and an intimate knowledge of the woods. If they will but carry out my bidding without question, I shall be well content."
"Thou art right.—And now, son John, how hast thou sped upon thine errands?"
"Well, father, the bracken will be fit to cut in a month. I have ordered loads to be prepared for me in all parts of the forest. The soil of the woodlands is everywhere green with the curling fronds; and where I do not cut, the foresters and miners will be preparing heaps to carry away for litter and bedding. By the end of July the forest beneath the oaks will be covered with a carpet of stuff as combustible as tinder. Let us but fire it at Newnham, Littledean, Blakeney, Coleford, and at Speech by the courthouse, and we shall lay tens of thousands of oaks in blackened ruin. Philip of Spain has but to scatter the present small navy of England, for no more ships can be built, and there will be nothing to oppose his landing."
"Thou hast done well. Our plans are fully ripe, but apparently the time is not quite come. We will separate for a month and remain in strict hiding. The admiral's suspicions are aroused. If we suddenly disappear at the moment when he becomes active in searching for us, his fears will be allayed. But at the appointed moment we must come forth without a sign of warning, do our work, and begone again. Our tools must be frightened into secrecy. I will do that. Let us now join them at breakfast."
It was not the fault of Father Jerome that the breakfast party was not a happy affair. Perfectly at ease himself, and satisfied with his morning's work, he was in the mood for decorous jollity; but although his two immediate satellites responded to his lead, and indulged in a few feeble jests, the farmer and foresters hardly vouchsafed a word or a smile. In part, maybe, this was due to the poverty of the wit of their sable companions, but the three were obviously ill at ease. Greed and a sort of religious fanaticism had brought them into the ranks of the conspirators, but their national instincts were rebuking them each moment. They felt traitors, and not all the sophistries of the priests—which put the Church first, and country a long way after—could ease their minds of a burden of shame. The chief conspirator watched them narrowly, and some dark thoughts concerning them ran through his mind.
The morning was advancing, and it behoved the plotters to separate. The leader gave them a few words of caution and command, and then bade the farmer go to his work as though nothing unusual was afoot; the rest would vanish one by one into the surrounding woods or across the river. One of the foresters betook himself off immediately, journeying on to Frampton, where he had some relatives, his visit to them being an ostensible reason for his presence on the wrong side of the Severn. He was a hard-faced fellow, with a pair of small, greedy-looking blue eyes. Father Jerome pressed his hand very affectionately at parting, and the man found three silver shillings sticking to his palm when his hand was free again. He strode away with a buoyant step, his misgivings gone for the while.
The other woodlander arose the moment the door was closed behind his companion.
"Wait a while, my son," said Jerome.
"I have something to say before I go."
"Ah! say on." The priest's face set somewhat sternly, for he did not like the forester's manner.
The fellow began without hesitation, and spoke as a man whose mind was full of the matter whereon he talked. The three in black listened.
"Good father, I have sworn an oath to be thy servant in a certain business."
"And thou canst not break that oath without hurling thy soul to eternal damnation," was the stern rejoinder.
"It is not in my mind to break my oath."
"If thou wilt listen, I will show thee that perhaps it would be better to release me from my vow."
"Listen. I am pledged to do a deed that the law will hold to be treason. I place myself in secret enmity to nearly every one of my countrymen. Did they but suspect me, they would hang me without mercy. A dog in their eyes, I should meet a dog's death."
"Tut!" broke in the priest sharply, "thy reasoning is all wrong. Thou, for the sake of truth and right, art placing thyself like a second David against a host of evil men. Dost hope for their good opinion?"
"But, good father," pleaded the fellow, "it doth not appear to me that I am doing right. Queen Bess—God bless her!—lives in the hearts of us all. Why should I work her a mischief in order to advance the King of Spain, whom we cannot but hate? Now, I bethink me, I have sworn to serve my Queen, but I have given no oath of fealty to the Pope. And as for your religion, well, I am in most ways of one mind with you, and I think these Protestants to be no better than heretics. Master Basil, whose learning is wonderful, did persuade me for the nonce that my duty lay along the path you are treading; but my mind misgives me woefully, and I cannot see that it is an honest thing to work in secret against the whole body of my fellow-countrymen."
Jerome's face had darkened, and Basil's lips were working evilly.
"But the whole body of thy fellow-countrymen are wrong!" he hissed. "God hath delivered them and their country into the hands of his faithful servant Philip."
"Then why doth Admiral Drake thrash the sailors of Philip whenever he meets them? God surely only fights for the right!" replied the forester.
This was a facer for the ex-priest, and ere he could frame a retort Jerome took up the matter again. "Thou hast said that thou art willing to keep thine oath."
"Not willing, but I will not willingly break it. My heart is no longer in the enterprise. I shall be ashamed to look my neighbours in the face. I shall fear their glances and despise myself. When the pinch comes, I may turn coward and do nothing. The whisper of conscience is more terrible than the roar of a lion. What will it avail you to look for help to such a one as I?"
"If I release thee—?"
"My lips are sealed. I have learned your plans, but I am honest with you. Be honest with me, and men shall tear out my tongue before I will speak a word of you or your plot."
Jerome sat silent for a few moments. Suddenly he started up.
"Thou art an honest fellow," he exclaimed, "and I believe thee. Half-hearted men are useless to me. Thou art released from thine oath. Go!"
Basil started to protest, but his leader placed his hand on his lips. The forester went out, feeling as though a mountain had been lifted from his shoulders. He disappeared at a turn in the lane. Then Jerome spoke. "Thou art our lay-brother, Basil. That man must not cross the river."
Basil nodded and went out. Whilst Jerome yet watched him, slipping from cover to cover, the farmer re-entered, a look of mingled fear and hesitation on his face. The priest turned instantly and noticed it. He laid his hand on his shoulder. "I am not yet gone, as thou seest. There is something I would show thee before I go."
For the space of about ten minutes the two stood in silence. Then the priest said "Come," and led the farmer from the house. He followed in Basil's footsteps, and came at length to the foot of a dwarf oak. A man lay there, his eyes glazing in death. Basil was wiping a dagger in the bracken.
Jerome pointed to the dying woodsman. "That man doubted and hesitated," he said.
The farmer shuddered, and went white-faced homewards.
Admiral Drake sat amidst his roses, watching the tide as it raced up the river. Every day he sat thus, unless some pressing duty forbade, for the sea held first place in his heart. When the tide was out, the river was dull and dreary enough to the heart of the bold sailor. To gaze on a stretch of a mile or more of sand and mud, with a shallow, yellow stream dividing it into two unequal portions, is not exhilarating; but when the sea makes its wild rush up the estuary, quickly filling the wide river-bed from bank to bank, then the Severn is noble enough, and one looks upon it with pride. The swirl and roar of the waters was music to Sir Francis, and the tide was an old and well-beloved friend that came up daily to embrace him. The happiest of the knight's waking hours were those he spent by the side of the flowing salt stream.
There was a click at the latch of the garden gate, and a most elegant gentleman sauntered gracefully in. His doublet was of blue, slashed silk, his feathered cap was of a colour to match, and there were golden buckles to his shoes and golden hilts to sword and dagger. His beard was trimmed to a dainty point, and curling locks slightly flecked with white hung down to his broad shoulders. The admiral, in his gray homespun, his short, frizzled hair bared to the breeze, turned at the sound of approaching footsteps, caught sight of the gentleman in blue, and sprang up to greet him.
"Now the winds of heaven be thanked for wafting thee hither, dear Wat," he cried. "Thou art more welcome than a fine day."
And the bluff sailor took the dainty visitor in his arms and kissed him lovingly on both cheeks. Embrace and kiss were heartily returned, and, arm in arm, the two sought the garden seat, and sat down to gaze on the sunlit waters and exchange tidings. Raleigh—for the visitor was none other than the famous knight of Devon—placed his sword across his knee and began the conversation; the rough and ready admiral was a better listener than talker.
"The Queen hath sent thee some coils of stout rope by my hand."
"She saith that she hath had no news of Spanish acorns dangling from the Dean oaks. Her words to me were: 'Tell my knight of the seas not to spare the hemp where traitors are concerned. To hang none is to let all escape, whereas to hang on reasonable suspicion is a sure way to rid his plantations of many knaves. If he should make a mistake, through excess of zeal, tell him that our pardon is assured beforehand.'"
Drake smiled. "'Tis a good thing there is but one woman in the government, and that men are entrusted with the carrying out of her orders. Beshrew me, Wat, let but a scare be started and she would hang every ill-favoured fellow she clapped eyes on."
Raleigh laughed. "Thou hast no faculty for comprehending the whimsies and oddities of womankind, especially royal womankind."
"That is but sober truth. I can see in a bee-line as well as most men, but I cannot follow all the twists and turns of our royal lady's pathway. Bethink thee how she treated me when I came home from my voyage round the world, my vessel crammed to the hatchway with Spanish treasure. Before the court she frowned on me, called me no better than a sea-thief, and threatened me with a hanging. Aboard my vessel, when none were there but Cecil, Leicester, and thyself, she praised me without stint, flattered me, well-nigh took me in her arms and kissed me, offered me knighthood, and then seized upon the best part of my hard-won spoils! Her mind doubles like a hare; there is no catching it and holding it and seeing of what colour it is. I have navigated unknown seas enough, but I should be shipwrecked in one month of court life. A palace is as full of guile as an egg is full of meat!"
The admiral was waxing warm, and his companion was laughingly enjoying his tirade.
"Every man to his trade, Frank," he said. "Thou art a striker of straight blows, and hast no cunning save when the foe is in gunshot. The sea breeze is life to thee, but some of us would choke with too much of it. We must breathe ever and anon of the scented atmosphere of courts. The turns and twists of intrigue attract us; we love to ruffle it in silk as well as in mail or in homespun. The voices and faces of fair women make music and beauty for our ears and our eyes; we love the harp and the lute as well as the mavis and throstle in the hedgerow, and we pore as diligently over a sonnet as thou dost over a sea chart."
"And that to me is a strange thing," replied Drake musingly. "Sometimes thou and I are so close in touch as to be almost one; yet, again, we find ourselves a world's space asunder: our thoughts oft run in couples like hounds, and 'tis because of such times that I love thee as a very dear brother."
Raleigh laid his hand affectionately on the admiral's shoulder. "Thou, Frank, art a man of action ever and always. When the battle is in my blood I can fight on land and sea as whole-heartedly as thou, and cry out that only such days are worth the living. Yet I am by nature a dreamer of dreams and a weaver of fancies. The soft, the still, the beautiful in the world and humankind, attract me. I would have seclusion rather than bustle and turmoil, the pen rather than the sword, the sweet whispers from a woman's lips and not the shouts of warriors. Thou dost not understand me, but I understand thee, and love thee for thy simplicity and directness. Thou art a better man than I, Frank, and the world will honour thee more than me. But let us quit this self-analysis. How art thou faring in thy mission to prevent the destruction of the forest?"
"Slowly. The forest is one vast hiding-place, and I have to deal with men who are very serpents for cunning. The leader is a Spanish priest masquerading as a gentleman, and he hath with him some of a like sort. They are for ever popping up in fresh places, but it is not easy to tell them one from another. There may be a dozen of them, or only two."
"The lesser number is the more likely. The more in a plot, the greater the danger of failure."
"So I have thought, and I put down their many appearances to the expedition with which they move. At present they can only plan mischief. There is little woody undergrowth, and the bracken is at its greenest. Ere long, however, the foresters and miners will begin the yearly cutting and drying of the bracken, which they take away and stack for the winter as bedding for themselves and their cattle. Then the danger is great indeed, and the firing of the forest an easy matter to a number of determined men skilfully posted."
"Have the conspirators many adherents?"
"I think not. The woodland folk are loyal, and have a right and proper hatred of the King of Spain. Let me but lay hands on one man and we may sleep in our beds without fear."
"And that man?"
"Is the priest, Father Jerome."
Raleigh sat up. "Canst describe him?"
"Ay. He is tall, lean, and yellow, looks a Spaniard, but speaks English as no foreigner could speak it. He hath money in plenty, and poor folk and greedy folk often fall a prey to Mammon."
"I have met this Father Jerome, unless I mistake him greatly. He is a Spaniard without doubt, and came hither first in the train of the Spanish ambassador in King Harry's reign. He came again with Philip when he took Queen Mary to wife, and stayed here the whole of that reign and much of the present. He knows our land and our language as well as thou or I, and Philip has chosen the fittest leader for his bold enterprise. Thou hast gotten a dangerous adversary; do not hold him cheaply, for he obtains a strange power over some men. 'Tis against his nature to strike openly. He works like a mole, and thou must find his place of burrowing and trap him. Meantime I commend the advice of the Queen to thee: lay all suspicious characters by the heels at once; put rogues to catch rogues, and have a care how thou walkest in the woods."
Sir Walter arose, but the admiral pressed him to stay and drink a cup of wine. So the two friends sat on a while longer, talking of old times in far-away Devon.
Hidden in the bushes on the top of the sandstone cliff that backed Drake's house was the dark figure of Basil. He wriggled thither at the moment when Raleigh lifted the garden latch.
JOHNNIE MORGAN TAKES A WALK.
At the foot of the hill leading out of Blakeney northwards towards Newnham stood a many-gabled, substantial farmhouse. A plantation of oaks backed it, and eastwards the meadows stretched away to the Severn. The house was in the possession of John Morgan, a verderer of the forest, and the good folk of the forest and river were proud to point to him as a "proper figure of a man." "Johnnie," as he was familiarly styled by his associates, stood a good two inches over six feet, was straight as a fir and tough as a young oak. He had just turned his twentieth year, and was as fleet of foot as the stags that he guarded. Dark-eyed and handsome, light-hearted and jovial, a good singer of a good song, he was as jolly a companion as one might meet on a long summer's day.
The morning was hot, and the June sun almost at its zenith. The gale that had rocked the tall trees in fury but a few days before was almost forgotten in the windless weather that had succeeded it. Master Morgan had sauntered along one of the broad woodland paths, and was now lying on his back in a sweet-smelling bed of bracken, gazing up through the trees to the blue sky beyond. Johnnie was dreaming the happy dreams of youth and the summer's noontide. The blue of the heavens haloed his thoughts, and a pair of sweet blue eyes looked out from the midst of them. A sigh escaped him. "Plague on 't!" he cried petulantly, "I cannot get verses or rhymes into marching order. My head aches with a tumble of conceits and dainty fancies. I could whisper a thousand pretty things to yonder perky robin; I cannot give tongue to one of them when Mistress Dorothy turns her eyes upon me; and now that my heart yearns to set them in verse for her reading, I cannot frame a line that doth not limp and stumble. What a thing it is that I can sing the tears into mine eyes with another fellow's verses and cannot build a couplet of mine own." Johnnie closed his eyes, puckered his brow, and thought hard.
For the better part of an hour Morgan had the cool nook in the woodland all to himself, and he dreamt of a pair of blue eyes, rhymed them with "skies," joined "love" with "dove," "sweet" with "fleet," "rosy" with "posy," and "heart" with "part," and cudgelled his brains for images and conceits that would express in some scant measure the charms of pretty Mistress Dorothy Dawe. But his lines would not prance and curvet as he wished them to do; they laboured along in a heavy, cart-horse fashion, so that Johnnie at length reluctantly recalled his wandering wits to the consideration of the practical things of life. And, immediately upon doing so, he became conscious of the presence of an intruder upon his privacy. Some one was moving very stealthily through the bracken; the young forester detected the quick breathing of a man and he held his own breath in an instant, whilst his body remained as rigid as though it had been a fallen log of oak. He cast his eye down the line of buttons on the front of his doublet and carefully scanned his belt. It held no weapon save a hunting-knife. His hearing became doubly acute at a sign of danger, and he fixed the spot from which each faint rustle proceeded. Meanwhile his brain was busy. Who should be stealing along within a few yards of the pathway? No game was afoot in the immediate neighbourhood, and no forester would be worming himself along in such a fashion. An honest man would walk upright. "This fellow is a rogue," commented Morgan. The bracken fronds curled high above him, and he knew that he was securely hidden. The rustling sounds circled round rather than approached him, and they finally ceased at a spot on the edge of the pathway about twenty yards below where Morgan lay listening.
The forester remained very still; the other made no sign. Morgan came to the conclusion that his presence was unsuspected, so he lay in wait to see what was afoot. Time flew on; to one, at least, the silence became irksome.
Sounds at last! Some one was coming down the pathway humming a song. The spy—for such he was—stirred. Morgan noiselessly raised himself on his elbow. The singer came on; his voice was rich and musical, and the young fellow's ears tingled with pleasure. He ventured to peep above the bracken. A dark form was half visible in front of him, and the face was turned towards the direction whence the song was coming. The head disappeared; Morgan ducked also. He could give no guess as to the identity of the man who lay before him. But his mind was made up as to the spy's intentions. Villainy was plainly foreshadowed. He drew his knife from his belt. The footfalls of the traveller were now audible. He came abreast of the lurking foe; he passed him. There was a sudden leap; then another. A steel blade flashed in the sunlight. The song ceased and the singer turned. Another second and the dagger would have been in his breast. But at the fateful moment of time the stroke was arrested by Morgan's hand. The would-be assassin turned with the hiss and wriggle of a viper; his strength was astonishing, and, ere Morgan was aware, the sharp stab entered his own arm. He loosened his grip with an exclamation of pain. The spy darted like a black shadow into the trees—and was gone.
After an instant of hesitation Morgan and the stranger dashed after him. They ran hither and thither, but found nothing. On the pathway they met again, and, for the first time, spoke. He whose life had been attempted took Morgan's wounded arm in his hands. "I owe thee, if not a life, at least a whole skin," he said. "I am deeply thy debtor."
"Sir Walter Raleigh can owe nothing to a forest man," exclaimed Morgan.
"Ah! thou knowest me. What is thy name?"
"John Morgan, heart and soul at your service!"
"I have heard of thee from my kinsman, and the reports were of an excellent quality. Come, let me see to thy hurt. We can gossip afterwards."
Soldiers and huntsmen are usually adepts at rough and ready surgery; the flow of blood from Morgan's wound was stanched and the injured limb bound up. Sir Walter inquired how he had so providentially got upon the track of the spy, and Johnnie poured out the story of his poetic difficulties. The knight laughed heartily, and offered his help.
"I am a bit of a rhymster, as thou knowest," he said. "What is the name of the bonny maiden whose eyes have driven thee to verse-making?"
"Mistress Dorothy Dawe," replied the forester a little sheepishly—"a sweet wench, Sir Walter, as e'er the sun shone upon. And I thought her name as pretty as her face, but, plague on't, I cannot fix a rhyme to 't."
"And there I sympathize with thee most heartily, Master Morgan. When I was of thine age and went a-sweethearting, my own fancy lighted upon a dainty damosel yclept Dorothy, and, like thee, I found the name most unreasonable in the matter of rhyme and rhythm. Cut it down to 'Dolly,' and that most unkind rhyme 'folly' straightway dings in one's ears."
"How didst thou surmount the difficulty?"
"How? By keeping the name well in the middle of my line. But there are a hundred pretty appellations that befit a maiden. Thou canst call her thy 'sun,' thy 'moon,' thy 'star,' thy 'light, 'life,' 'goddess,' and so on through a very bookful of terms. Shall I make thee a verse as we jog along?"
"A thousand thanks! but no. I will stand on mine own footing, or stand not at all. I will win the wench by mine own parts or merits, or else wish her joy with a better man. She shall love me decked in mine own plain russet, not in velvet and laces borrowed from another's wardrobe."
"Valiantly spoken, Master Morgan. I like thy spirit, and, beshrew me, 'twill serve thee better with a sensible maiden than any amount of pretty speeches and cooing verses. 'Tis a poor man that hath not faith in himself. In wooing, as in fighting, 'tis the brave heart and the honest soul that gain the clay; and the quick, strong arm serves the world better than the glib tongue. But let us get to this business that brought us together this morning. Thou dost not know my assailant?"
"Not from Adam. Hath your worship no knowledge of him?"
"No certain knowledge, Master Morgan; but I can give a shrewd guess or two concerning him. Thou hast heard of the plot of King Philip to destroy the forest?"
"Ay, the rumour was abroad strong enough in the springtime, but since Admiral Drake came down I have heard nothing. I thought the rascal plotters had fled, for 'tis well known the health of a Spaniard suffers grievously if he do but breathe the same air as our gallant sailor."
"That is so; but some are of tougher constitutions than others, and they do not sicken in a day. The fellow who hath left his mark upon thee is an emissary of Spain. I did not know my life was threatened, but the admiral may find a foe in any thicket. I am heartily sorry the villain escaped us."
"I am downright ashamed on 't!" cried Johnnie. He drew himself up to his full height and stretched out a brawny arm. "I ought to have crushed him 'twixt finger and thumb as I would a wasp. A lean, shrivelled, hole-and-corner coward!"
"But as strong and supple as a wild cat," commented Raleigh.
"Ay, and he left the mark of his claws behind him," added Morgan. "He was no weakling."
"And he is not the only one lying in wait; nor is he the master hand in this business. You verderers must bestir yourselves, or that which is entrusted to you will go up to the heavens in smoke. I will wend with thee to Newnham. The admiral goes thither on the tide this afternoon on the Queen's business, and 'twill be as well that he, and those that come to meet him, should see evidence of the activity of our secret foes."
So the knight and Master Morgan mended their pace along the woodland way.
 A warden of the forest and an administrator of "forest law."
"Then thou dost refuse to listen to my suit, Mistress Dorothy?"
"Refuse! Alack, good Master Windybank, what a word to utter. Look at yonder sundial and thou wilt see that I have hearkened most patiently for more than an hour." Mistress Dorothy opened her blue eyes very widely, and her tone was a trifle indignant.
"Ay, but there is listening and listening, mistress," was the testy response.
"And surely my listening deserves commendation, seeing that I made no interruption, scarcely speaking a word."
"But I wanted thee to speak, to interrupt, to contradict, to argue. Thy silence betokened indifference. I had rather that thou hadst flown into a temper and bidden me begone than sat mum all the while." Windybank jumped up from the garden seat and began to pace to and fro, to the peril of Dorothy's flower-beds.
"But why should I argue or contradict or fly into a passion if thou dost tell me my eyes are blue? 'Tis the truth." Dorothy opened them wider, and made them look more innocent and beautiful than ever.
"Was that all I said for the space of an hour?" was the sullen rejoinder.
"No," said the cool little maiden, "'twas not; but thou didst offer no ground for argument. I heard a catalogue of virtues recited, and was bidden to believe that mine own small person gave lodging and nourishment to them all. Well, in good faith, sir, 'tis my earnest hope that some are guests in my heart, and I would fain believe that I give harbourage to all the noble train. Thou didst speak at some length of thyself, thy hopes and aspirations, they were such as would become thy youth and station: why should I quarrel with thee concerning them? Again, I had a list of thy possessions, the tale of gold in thy coffers. Should I give thee the lie over thy arithmetic? Thy uncle is rich, and thou art his heir. Shall I lose my temper because of John Windybank's money?"
The youth turned fiercely upon the maiden and gripped her by the shoulders so that she winced with the pain. "I—told—thee—that—I—loved—thee!" he said with deliberate emphasis. "What hast thou to say to that?"
"That a maid is honoured by the affection of any good man."
"Dost thou love me?"
"No," said Dorothy, rising also and removing his hands.
Windybank's eyes were blue like those he confronted, but they were as shifty as the maiden's were steady, and whilst the blue of hers deepened with anger, his assumed a greenish tint that was both uncomely and cruel. For a moment he stared into the azure deeps before him, trying to fathom them. He failed.
"Would 'No' have been Jack Morgan's answer?" he asked.
Dorothy's eyes flashed, but her lips remained closed. She showed no signs of anything save anger. The baffled lover lost his head, and with it went his common sense and veneer of gentlemanly breeding.
"Silence is answer enough," he snarled. "Morgan's black eyes and swarthy face have bewitched thee as thou hast bewitched me. Well, take thy choice between us. He hath the start of me in inches, but a moon-calf would hardly benefit by bargaining wits with him—a grinning, guzzling giant whose chief delight is singing songs in a tavern or wrestling with brawny clowns as empty-headed as himself!"
Windybank paused for breath, and Dorothy faced him as unflinchingly as before, her lips curling in contempt.
"Hast nothing to say now?" he went on. "Have I not given thee matter for contradiction, fuel to feed the fires of thine anger?"
"John Morgan needs no woman's help," she said quietly.
"Neither help of man nor woman shall avail him ere long. Hark'ee, mistress" (he lowered his voice): "there is power awaiting the man bold enough to make a venture to obtain it. Look for the day when I am thy master. And tell some others to look to their heads. I'll break thy spirit yet, and see fear in thy blue eyes instead of scorn. I am no braggart!"
"But thou art a coward!" said Dorothy, whose face had grown very white. "Think not that I shall feel anything save scorn for the man who threatens a girl and slanders the absent. Thou art our neighbour, else I would call a servant to put thee forth on to the highway. Begone!"
Master Windybank turned to go. It was time, for Johnnie Morgan and Sir Walter could be seen making their way towards the house door. "Tell thy long-legged swashbuckler of our meeting," he sneered.
"I do not fear thee enough to call in a champion," cried Dorothy calmly. "Yonder is the gate."
The rejected suitor strode off. The maiden ran into a little arbour and had a good cry. "Sweet seventeen" does not like to be bullied and threatened by a man in whom her quick eyes have discerned the possibilities of a thorough villain.
The little shower of anger and wounded pride lasted about three minutes. Then sunny thoughts broke through the clouds, and presently the sky was clear again. "Johnnie is come!" said Dorothy's heart. "Sir Walter and Master Morgan are in the house," murmured Dorothy's lips. "I must see to my duties as hostess, and I do not want to be quizzed about tear-stains. Plague take that little Windybank!" A dainty foot was stamped quite viciously. "I hope Johnnie will cudgel him. A whipping would do him good!" Dorothy sat with folded hands and pleasantly contemplated the corrective operation. Then a voice was heard in the garden calling her name. She listened. "Only nurse!" she murmured in a disappointed tone.
An old crone with a wrinkled but good-natured face came along to the arbour. "Dolly, sweetheart," she cried, "dost thou not know who is within?"
"I saw Sir Walter turn in at the gate to speak to father."
"Hoighty-toity!" exclaimed the old dame. "Saw Sir Walter, did we! And what of the head and pair of shoulders that stood above those of the knight? We did not see them!"
"Was it Master Morgan with him, Peggy?" asked Dorothy unconcernedly.
"Ask him who ran away just now," snapped Peggy. "I saw the toady little villain sneak off. I'd ha' given my Sunday kirtle to my worst enemy if Johnnie had espied him and known that he and thee had been sitting cheek by jowl for an hour."
"Master Windybank is our neighbour," said Dorothy haughtily, "and he comes hither with my father's consent."
"Ay, men are as blind as owls to each other's failings," was the tart response. "But I can see through a quick-set hedge as far as most folks, and know when a rascal lies in hiding behind one. Get thee indoors and talk to Master Morgan, an honest fellow whom thy mother—God rest her soul!—loved before death took her from us."
But Dorothy refused to be hurried. Peggy had loved her and mothered her since she was a tiny prattler of three, and she often found her, as she declared to her gossips, "a handful." Peggy, angry with her nursling, turned to go, but she discharged a telling shot at parting. "Very well!" she cried, "I'll go and bind up Master Morgan's wounds myself. One of the bravest knights in England is attacked by a Spanish giant in the forest. A brave lad jumps in to save him, and receives the dagger in his own body. He comes to those who should love him, to have the flow of his precious blood stanched; but no, good lack; we love not brave lads—we dally away God's good time with cowards and rascals!"
"Peggy! Peggy!" cried Dorothy, and the blue eyes were running over again, and the cheeks were pale as a ghost's, "is Master Morgan wounded?"
"He may be dying; the dagger perhaps was poisoned," said Peggy. "I'll go and kiss the brave lad whilst he has wit enough left to know me. Stay thou here, mistress; only loving hands must tend the brave!"
But Dorothy flew after her and clutched her arm. "Kiss me, Peggy!" she wailed, "kiss me!" But Peggy refused.
"You shall not touch him, Peggy; you are my nurse, but I am his. Do you hear?"
But the old woman was deaf, and she stalked on with her thin nose in the air. Dorothy clung to her, and they reached the house together. It so happened that the story of the attack had been told to Dorothy's father, and Sir Walter was getting a little fun at the expense of Johnnie and his wrestlings with the muse of poetry. A lively, good-humoured sally, at the moment when Dorothy's trembling limbs carried her over the threshold, evoked a peal of stentorian laughter from Master Morgan's capacious lungs. The tearful maid stood bewildered for an instant, then a roar from all three men brought the colour back swiftly to her cheeks. Johnnie Morgan dying? The wicked rascal was convulsed with merriment, and his friends, who should be sorrowing for his untimely fate, were as merry as he! With an indignant look at the chuckling Peggy, the maiden turned and fled into the garden again. But Master Morgan, who had been anxiously listening for her amidst all the chatter and uproar, heard the light patter of her footsteps upon the flagged courtyard. He sprang to the window, caught sight of the flying figure, felt his heart beating like a great drum, murmured an apology to his companions, and darted out of the room, almost laying Peggy full length on the threshold as he ran off.
A SINISTER MEETING.
When Master Windybank left the quaint, riverside garden of Captain Dawe, he was feeling about as amiable as a wolf might feel who has just been scared from the side of a lamb by the timely arrival of a huge sheep-dog. He growled with anger, showed his teeth for an instant, then slunk away with his tail between his legs. He was a spiteful, malevolent creature, cunning, unprincipled, and tainted with cowardice. He had pluck of the wolfish sort, and could fight desperately if cornered; but he shunned the open unless hard pressed, and preferred snapping at an opponent's heels to flying in his face. He was a dangerous foe, and pretty Dorothy had gone far towards making one of him.
In no pleasant frame of mind, Andrew Windybank strode up the high street of the town. Few of the townsfolk gave him a good-day; he was not a popular personage. For one thing, he was a Littledean man and not of the river-side; his family was purse-proud and tyrannical; worst of all in the eyes of a Pope-hating people, the Windybank family still clung to the old faith. Young Master Andrew was quite accustomed to cold looks, and, as a rule, they troubled him not at all. He was by nature reserved and uncommunicative, and he was sufficiently well satisfied with himself to care but little for the opinion of other people. He turned aside from the town and breasted the steep hill that led to Littledean.
Windybank had not walked through the town with his ears shut, although he had studiously kept his eyes lowered. More than once he had heard the name of his rival mentioned, and each time the speaker's tones had expressed admiration and affection. The angry young gentleman knew nothing of Morgan's exploit, but the local gossips had seen the forester pass through, and one had succeeded in getting an account of the morning's affray. Johnnie was more than ever a popular hero. It was unfortunate, perhaps, for Dorothy and her rival suitors that Morgan's arm and Windybank's pride had both been wounded on the same morning. The rejected lover had always envied and hated Morgan because of his popularity; the events of the morning were rapidly turning that hatred into a sort of malevolent frenzy. His heart burned with rage and jealousy as he went rapidly homewards.
Now, a man's heart will sometimes be attuned to goodness, and his whole nature, being aglow with conscious virtue, will yearn for some outlet for the kindliness that wells up within him. None is offered, and the virtuous fountain trickles itself dry, and no one is a whit the wiser or better. Anon, the same heart breeds envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, and straightway comes the chance of working evil. The temptation is great, the opportunity is eagerly seized, and wickedness is done; it is so easy to step into the "broad way," so difficult to find footing in the "strait and narrow path."
Andrew Windybank was not a good man, but apt opportunity led him farther astray than, in the depths of his heart, he ever intended to go. His feet were treading the paths of his own domains. His ancestral home, Dean Tower, raised its dark red walls before him. Some of the bitterness was gone from his thoughts. Visions of the wealth, wherein he was superior to his rival and the maiden who had flouted his advances, were easing the wounds in his pride.
A spare figure, garbed in black, stepped from behind a clump of bushes, and stood bareheaded in the pathway.
"God be with thee, Master Windybank, and St. James be thine aid!" exclaimed a harsh voice. Basil confronted him.
Windybank's first feeling was one of annoyance. Basil and his master, Father Jerome, had visited Dean Tower before, and although they had come and gone in secret and by night, yet some suspicion of these Spanish visits had got abroad. The Dean men were proud of their magnificent sweep of forest-clad hills and dales, and prouder still of the oaks that gave their beloved England her impregnable "wooden walls." They were wild with anger and indignation when the first rumours of King Philip's plot came to their ears. Now they were inclined to treat the daring project with quiet contempt, but Windybank knew that scant mercy would be shown a forest man who should be so unspeakably treacherous as to favour the scheme, even by so little as holding converse with one of the hated plotters.
These thoughts running through his mind, Master Andrew did not return the Spaniard's salutation, but waved him aside and endeavoured to continue his way. Basil barred the path, his black plumed hat still in his hand, and his face wearing a caricature of a smile.
"One faithful son of the Church should not refuse greeting to a brother," he said.
"What dost thou want?" was the curt response.
"I am come upon business that hath the blessing of the Holy Father."
"I'll not listen!"
Windybank thrust out his arm to push his unwelcome companion aside. Basil took him by the shoulders and stared into his face with an intentness that made the young fellow fancy that the fierce, black orbs confronting him were burning holes in his brain. For two minutes, that seemed two full hours, the gaze was concentrated upon him. Windybank felt his body shrinking into a smaller compass under the fascination. His breath came thickly, his knees trembled, and his heart laboured in its beating.
"The Holy Father hath sent a message to thee."
"I have heard it," was slowly gasped out.
"He hath sent another. Thou darest not refuse to listen." The ex-monk's hand was uplifted in warning. "Shall I be forced to curse thee as thou standest?" he whispered. "'Tis obey, and be blessed above measure; or refuse, and—thou knowest the penalty; I will not speak it here. Listen! Father Jerome and I will come to thee at midnight. Thou wilt meet us at thy gate and show us to a chamber where we may confer in secret. Remember!"
Windybank felt the iron hand lifted from his shoulder. Basil was gone. For a minute he stared blankly at the bush behind which he had disappeared. A warning signal, "At midnight, remember!" came to his ears, and awoke him from his half-stupor. He shook himself, tried to answer, uttered no word, then passed on. He entered his house with a face that matched his ruff in its sickly yellow colouring.
IN THE TOILS.
That afternoon the house of Captain Dawe was filled with visitors more or less illustrious. The dignitaries of the forest and the river were assembled in solemn conclave. The scare caused by the first rumours of the Spanish plot was revived in tenfold magnitude. Morgan's wounded arm was a mute witness to the daring and activity of the foe. The knight and the forester could describe every lineament of the would-be assassin. The yellow, parchment face, the spare, sinewy body clad in black doublet and hosen, had been seen for a moment by many a forester. And the woodland men, brimful of superstition, had already invested him with supernatural powers.
A belated swineherd had gone in terror to his master with a story that he had come upon the "men in black" dancing beneath an oak, enveloped in blue flames, and that the smell of the "brimstone" had laid him on the ground in a stupor from sunset to moonrise, more than an hour after! The following day, in the early forenoon, he had led a trembling party to the spot, and, sure enough, there was a blackened circle in the bracken and the charred bark and singed leaves of the tree to testify to the truth of his tale. Neither swineherd nor shepherd nor forester had dared to pass the tree from that hour. The woodsman's story was not all exaggeration. He had actually stumbled upon the two villains, Basil and John, trying the kindling properties of the bracken, and he had promptly fallen in a swoon from sheer terror. By the common folk his account was believed ad literam, and not all the better sort saw the true inwardness of the occurrence. So the assembly had serious matter for thought and discussion.
The leaders saw the gravity of the situation, and their apprehensions grew when they found that those who best knew the forest were becoming rapidly infected with superstitious fears. As a race the Dean men were brave and tenacious—centuries of border warfare had made them so—but their very life amidst the gloom of the trees and the roaring of the streams, their brains teeming with mythic tales of the dark, deep pools and echoing caves, made them ready believers in the "uncanny." The forest could only be guarded by those who knew its devious ways; the number of such warders was limited. Now it would be impossible to get any man to keep a lonely watch; sentinels must be posted in groups for mutual comfort and assistance, seeing that the tangible danger of Basil's dagger was to be feared as much as the intangible perils that sprang from the imagination. To group the watchers was to narrow the guarded area, and it was plain to the council that, at night especially, little of the rolling tract of hill and valley could be patrolled; the foe would have fairly free range.
One precaution could be taken, and that was promptly done. Orders were issued that no bracken was to be cut except with the direct sanction of the admiral. When cut it was to be carried green, and dried away from the trees. Large rewards were also offered to any man who could bring any "man in black," alive or dead, to the admiral. Visions of high preferment were opened out to those of gentle blood. Suspected persons in the forest area were to be closely watched, and most houses professing the Romish faith were under suspicion.
Johnnie Morgan spent but little time in the society of the volatile Dorothy. His heart was full of love, but his head was overloaded with affairs of state, and the pain in his arm filled the air with "phantoms" in black that blotted out the sweeter picture of a teasing "fairy" in white. The admiral, never so happy as when on the water, went back to Gatcombe on the tide. Sir Walter tramped through the woods with Morgan, and, now that the council was over, he came back to the lighter topics of poetry and love-making.
"Well, Master Morgan," he cried merrily, "and how didst thou fare in the pretty arbour in the garden?"
Johnnie's face dropped to a gloomy length. "But indifferently, sir knight. The maid will not be wooed. She is as fickle as April."
"Then catch her just when she melts into tears; 'tis the more propitious time. Surely there was one little shower over thy wounded arm. What advantage didst thou reap from it?"
"Why, none," mourned Johnnie. "'Twas like this. I had wit enough to see that my unfortunate condition gave me a chance, and, I give thee my word, I manoeuvred to make the best on't. The wench seemed melting with pity, and her eyes were moist with kindness, so I made the plunge. But, gramercy! I found myself in a very thorn bush, and hardly escaped without a scratching. She'll ha' none of me!"
Johnnie's brown face was a study. Raleigh glanced at it, and laughed heartily.
"Keep heart, friend," he said. "Thou wilt find that 'tis as hard a matter to embrace a wayward fairy as to lay a sooty goblin by the heels. But thou'lt do both; a knowing imp hath just whispered the news in mine ears."
The forester's face beamed. "Now Heaven bless thee for a cheerful companion!" he cried. "By St. George! I'll do both."
And so the twain wandered on.
At Dean Tower, Andrew Windybank passed an uncomfortable afternoon. His meeting with the dangerous Basil had affected him more than his rejection by Dorothy. As the day advanced his agitation increased. He knew of the meeting at Captain Dawe's. No invitation had been extended to him, and he was aware from this that his loyalty was suspected. Tidings of the attack upon Raleigh went the round of the household. Later, towards evening, a fisherman came up from Newnham with salmon, and he was full of gossip concerning the deliberations of the admiral's council. The fellow dropped some broad hints that stung the ears of the Windybank domestics. At supper Master Andrew felt that his attendants were uneasy and suspicious, and this increased his agitation. Night and its solitude brought him no relief. The household betook itself to rest. The master alone remained up and awake.
The night was gloriously clear, and the moonlit forest was like fairyland. The windows of the chamber in which Windybank awaited the stroke of midnight faced towards the river, and the sheen of its broad waters was plainly visible. He sat without a light, and the silvery beams from without cast fantastic shadows on the oaken floor and the dark panelling of the low walls. The carved furniture stood distorted and grotesque. The woodwork creaked as it cooled from the heat of the day, and a mouse that scuttled sharply across the floor brought the watcher to his feet with an exclamation of alarm. His nerves were strung to respond to every sight and sound. Again and again he resolved that he would not sit up or have further dealings with the plotters. Loyalty and manliness and the fear of evil report pulled him one way; greed, ambition, desire for revenge, terror of Father Jerome and the thunders of the Church pulled him another. His mind was so torn with dissension and struggle that at last he gave up all endeavour to fix a path for himself. He sat blank and apathetic, conscious only that he was carrying out the order so menacingly given to him by Basil.
Midnight came, and he roused himself and stood up. He listened for signs of wakefulness in his household, but, within and without, the hour was soundless. He stole across the room to the window, then hesitated. Pressing his burning temples with his hands, he tried to come to some decision as to his conduct. Should he quietly summon a few of his men, bring in the plotters and arrest them? If he did this, surely it would atone for the dealings he had had with them? Honour whispered, "Get thee to thy slumbers, and go to-morrow to the admiral and make thy confession." He turned away from the lattice. A slight rattle attracted his attention. The blood rushed from his face, leaving him as cold as death. The dark form of Basil, silhouetted by the moonlight, was confronting him. One glare of angry reproach from the sinister eyes was enough. He opened the casement; Basil stepped in, and Father Jerome followed.
The two stood and eyed him severely. The priest laid his hand on his shoulder, and the ghost of a smile flickered across his pale countenance. Many a poor wretch had found that smile a herald of tragedy. Such it now appeared to the hapless owner of Dean Tower.
"'Tis past midnight, my son," said Jerome.
Windybank made no reply. The grip on his shoulder tightened with a startling suddenness. "'Tis past midnight, my son."
"Yes?—is it? I was coming, good father," faltered the victim.
"When thou art doing the work of a king—of the Holy Father—of God," whispered the priest, "thou shouldst put wings upon thy feet. Take heed, my son! We love thee" (the smile deepened); "we look to thee to do great things and earn great rewards. Let not our dearest hopes be disappointed."
Windybank glanced at Basil. There was death in the fanatic's eyes. "Forgive me," he murmured, and sank upon his knees.
Jerome raised him, and imprinted a cold kiss upon his forehead. "Sit," he said.
"The admiral hath held a council at Newnham to-day, and thou hast lost heart because a few dull wits have been pondering together," pursued the priest. "Dost thou know their plans?"
"A child might laugh at them! Our brave Basil here will reduce their watchmen to a jelly of terror before this moon wanes. When flies catch spiders, then these fools will catch us. Now hearken. If thou dost show the white feather again, thou diest; Basil hath sworn it. That is all that I have to say to thee by way of threat or reproof. Now this, by way of encouragement. We cannot fail. 'Tis the Church against heretics, the Holy Father against apostates, the mightiest king in Christendom against a vain and foolish woman. My plans are perfected. A vessel manned by stout hearts will be here, in the river, a month from to-day. Men who laugh at danger and have never known defeat will be aboard of her. They will land at my signal, and must find all things ready for the last blow. These miles of woodland will be ablaze; no guard, such as the admiral can set, will prevent us. I want thine aid. 'Tis an honour for thee to be linked with our holy cause; beware how thou dost carry the dignity. This house of thine must be hiding-place and headquarters for me. I shall come and go when I please, and, be assured, I shall time my movements so that none shall know of them. A safe asylum in the forest is necessary. I have chosen this. I command; thou dost obey. Have I made it plain to thee?"
Windybank's dry lips murmured "Yes."
"Thou hast an enemy?"
"Basil hath set his mark upon him."
"I know it."
"If thou art faithful, thy rival dies. Now lead us to the chamber of which thou hast told us. Basil and I are weary, and would sleep. Come, thou shall wait upon us and make us secure."
The men in black slept at the Tower that night.
MASTER WINDYBANK WALKS ABROAD.
A month came and went, and during that time the stir of apprehension died down in the forest. Men pursued their wonted occupations, by the river, in the greenwood and the mines, without let or hindrance. Night was as untroubled as the day; the dreaded men in black appeared no more. Wayfarer and forester forgot to scan bush and bracken for the deadly and cadaverous form of Basil. Simple, honest souls believed that the admiral's council at Newnham, and the measures of defence adopted thereat, had shown the emissaries of King Philip how impossible was their wild enterprise.
"Verily," said they, "the villains have gotten a fright, and are gone back to their rascally master."
Which opinion did credit to the clean-souled fellows who uttered it, and a glaring injustice to the cunning knaves who had caused such a fearful commotion amongst them. And all the while the plotters had secret harbourage at Dean Tower, coming and going by stealth and in the darkness, avoiding all men, playing no bogy tricks, but maturing their plans.
Andrew Windybank had lived the wretchedest month of his life. A mountain of care bowed him down, and fear, rage, jealousy, and wounded pride gnawed unceasingly at his heart. He knew that he was a suspected person: his neighbours shunned him; many of his servants and dependants, by sidelong looks and spying ways, showed that they mistrusted him. Within a week of the time when Father Jerome and his two lieutenants quartered themselves upon him, the young master of Dean Tower went about with pale face and bowed head, ashamed to meet the eyes of a passer-by; and all the time wild anger surged up in his heart, equally against those whose tool he was and against those who stepped aside with a shrug to let him pass. He suffered all the agonies that come upon weak natures that fall into temptation or succumb to evil influences. He dreaded the power of the Church of Rome; he shivered as he thought of the terrors of England's laws against traitors. He loved his country in a way, and he was proud of her; yet, having done nothing to merit the applause of his fellow-countrymen, he was maliciously envious of those who had risen to emergencies, or deliberately planned great deeds, and thus won themselves fame. He loved Mistress Dorothy, and he felt that, if she would only love him, he could be brave and noble; yet he hated the easy-going, simple-hearted Johnnie Morgan, who had made himself a popular idol, and was marked out by the gossips as the fittest and properest husband for pretty Mistress Dawe. Master Windybank could not help but admire the valiant admiral, and he remembered how he had flushed with pleasure when Drake had taken him by the hand on the occasion of their introduction. He hated and feared Father Jerome: but he was aiding his schemes, and endeavouring to frustrate those of the gallant sailor whom he honoured.
As the days wore on, unceasing fears began to torture him. Did any one know of his treason? One aged servitor only had been admitted into the secret of the unwelcome guests in the Tower, and the honest veteran had gone straightway upon his knees and besought his young master to cast them out. Of the Romish faith himself, he would have no hand in plots against his lawful Queen, and no truckling to the cruel bigot who sat upon the throne of Spain. But love of his master brought him into the snare, and made him an unwilling tool of the conspirators. Both fear and affection lead men to belie their better selves.
After a month of what was almost seclusion, Andrew Windybank determined to spend a morning by the river. He walked into Newnham, and made his way to the ferry to watch the tide race up the river. Men, horses, and dogs were coming across from Arlingham, as the verderers of the forest had a great hunt fixed for that very day. Windybank, as a verderer, should have remembered this, but weightier matters had driven it from his mind.
There was plenty of bustle at the ferry; men were shouting, horses were neighing, and hounds were baying. The townsfolk had come down to welcome their friends from the other side, but no Newnham man approached the master of Dean Tower. There was some whispering, some furtive glancing in his direction, and the Arlingham folk cut him as completely as did those of Newnham.
With his heart full of rage and malice, the young gentleman turned on his heel and strode off up the street. He held his head defiantly erect, and he gave scorn for scorn and shrug for shrug. From the open window of "Ye Whyte Beare" a jolly, rolling peal of laughter told him that young Morgan was within, and two boar-hounds tethered to the doorpost proclaimed that the Blakeney yeoman purposed hunting other game than the timid deer that day.
Higher up the street the angry man encountered a group of dark-haired, sallow-faced miners who were taking a holiday, and a hiss of "Papist! papist!" greeted him as he passed. His hand went to the hilt of his dagger, but the fellows flourished their oaken cudgels within an inch of his nose; so he contented himself with a counter hiss of "Insolent dogs!" and went on.
Resolved to face his foes, Master Andrew walked the whole length of the high street, although the road to Littledean branched off about halfway up. This meant that he must pass Captain Dawe's cottage, which dainty habitation he had not looked upon since the morning when his wooing had been interrupted by the coming of his wounded rival. The angry colour fled from his face, and his head sank lower and lower as he neared the place. The sound of Dorothy's voice in the garden unnerved him completely; shame swept over him like the swift river-tide that still roared in his ears, his chin fell on his breast, and a ghastly pallor whitened his cheeks. A sob broke from him as he bent low and hurried by. He did not dare to snatch even a glimpse of the scene beyond the hedge.
But he heard his name called in quick but quiet tones, "Master Windybank! Master Windybank!" His heart almost ceased beating. The shock of detection made him pause for an instant, and that brief space of time brought Dorothy into view. He would not run, but turned towards her, throbbing with the panting fears of a creature brought to bay. The wild light in his eyes was quenched when he saw the kindly glow in the blue orbs of the maiden. She put out her hand.
"Thou art almost a stranger," she said.
The youth's dry lips could frame no answer, nor did he take the proffered hand. Kindly concern, where he had expected contempt and reproach, completely unnerved him. Dorothy's hand was still held out, and her eyes grew kinder as he looked into them. He took the dainty fingers in his trembling hand and pressed them to his hot, dry lips. Dorothy had almost the sensation of a burn, and she winced. Windybank took the movement as a repulse, and threw the hand from him.
"Art thou going to torture me too?" he cried harshly. "Why do you all hate me so?"
"Hate!" echoed Dorothy. "La! Master Windybank."
"I am shunned like a leper," he went on. "Shall I get me into a sheet, carry a bell, and cry 'Unclean! unclean!' as I walk the roads?"
"But I do neither hate thee nor shun thee, else I had not called to thee. 'Tis thou dost make a hermit of thyself. And thou art ill and fevered," she added compassionately; "thou art wasted well-nigh to a shadow."
"I have no rest, no peace," he groaned. "I am scorned of my neighbours, spied upon, suspected, insulted. Do ye all think I have no heart to feel these things, no spirit to resent them? But I can return hate for hate, injury for injury. Let some men look to themselves!"
His tones were so fierce that Dorothy quailed. She recovered herself quickly.
"Come into the garden," she said.
"I cannot come where I am not welcome."
"I am asking thee."
"I shall not come."
"Then must I come to thee."
Suiting action to the words, the maiden hurried through the gate, and in a minute more Windybank was sitting beside her in the arbour.
Now Mistress Dorothy was a maiden very prone to act upon impulse. She would do a thing, and then, after accomplishment, consider the action, and ofttimes repent. She had never entertained any very great liking for Master Andrew, although her father had at one time made much of him and favoured him as an acceptable suitor for his daughter's hand. But the fact that the young gentleman was in serious disgrace, and spoken ill of by those who smoked their pipes and sipped their ale around the captain's table, softened her heart towards him. Ugly clouds of suspicion hung over him, and men said bitter things concerning him; but to Dorothy's mind the alleged treason seemed impossible. The accused man, she would argue, was a gentleman and a forester; he had sat at her father's board, he had spoken of love to her: such a one could not be a traitor; she would not condemn him unheard. But she had resolved to put him upon trial if opportunity offered. The opportunity had come, and, believing in his innocence, she seized upon it.
Dorothy went straight to her task without bush-beating. She told Master Andrew very plainly what men were saying about him, and then she asked him some blunt and awkward questions. Windybank was cunning; he saw that in Dorothy he had a friend and a ready champion. To answer her questions truthfully was to forfeit her good opinion and turn her liking into loathing. He determined to fence.
The maiden would have none of it. "I must have plain answer to plain question!" she cried.
So Master Windybank gave answers that appeared stamped with the mark of truth. He assumed the indignation of a wronged innocent, and spouted with some heat a torrent of lies and cunning half-truths.
It was all very cleverly done, especially the contrite confessions concerning interviews with Father Jerome and his brother-conspirators. He acknowledged that men had had some cause to suspect him. "But," exclaimed he, "a man should not be written down a criminal because some one asks him to commit a villainy. All of us are liable to temptation!"
"Truly spoken!" said Dorothy. "However, we must not parley with the tempter, but flee from him."
"That is not easy," answered Andrew, "for these men steal about like very wolves. They spring into one's path when least expected. It is impossible to avoid them."
Dorothy tapped her companion's sword. "Thou art armed," she said, "and so are they. What shouldst thou do when an avowed enemy of the Queen crosses thy path actually engaged in evil-doing?"
Windybank gulped. "Cut him down," he replied.
"Exactly!" Dorothy arose and held out her hand.
"I expect to hear that a gentleman and a forester has done his duty to his Queen, himself, and his friends."
The master of Dean Tower bowed, murmured some words of loyalty and devotion, and then took his leave. He went the longest way home, avoiding all frequented ways near which Basil might be lurking. Loyalty and treason, lodged in his heart, fought a dire fight, and, thanks to the vision of a pretty face, treason was rather badly wounded.
By the time he had reached home, Windybank was persuaded that treason would bring no grist to his mill. Weak-kneed and inclined to evil, he was yet an Englishman, and in his heart he felt that all the kings that ever ruled in Spain were too feeble a power to hold valiant little England in a conqueror's grip. The Jesuit's plot was feasible, and, as expounded by Father Jerome, promised a measure of success. The master of Dean Tower was prepared to acknowledge that the forest might be fired. What then? Would Philip beat England on the sea? The balance of numbers would be on his side; but what of the deeds of Drake and his brother-captains? They were men who laughed when the odds were against them. "No," said Andrew decisively, "the Spaniard is not yet born who can trounce that bullet-headed man of Devon. Philip's men can hardly land in England. If they do—!" The young man shrugged his shoulders expressively; there were bonny fighters for the shore as well as for the sea!
Such was the power of a pair of blue eyes, when the black ones were not at hand to counteract their witchery, that Windybank determined straightway to play the honest man that he had determined to become. He whistled for his dogs, called to his groom, got him upon a sturdy pony, and hurried away to the hunt. He was late, but he knew that the quarry was to be roused in the Abbot's Wood, a close belt of forest lying betwixt Littledean and Blakeney, so he made for the old, grass-grown Roman road that ran straight through the heart of the woodland, and, ere he had ridden two miles, he could discern horn and "halloo!" away to the right towards the Speech. His hounds heard the welcome sounds, gave mouth in answer, and dashed off through the green, waving sea of bracken. And master and groom, their forester blood running like a stimulating wine through them, put spurs to their steeds and raced off on the heels of the dogs.
After very little riding, the rapidly swelling volume of sound told the two hunters that the chase was coming straight in their own direction, and hardly had they come to this conclusion when a fresh and fiercer baying from their dogs and a ripping and crashing in the undergrowth brought them face to face with the quarry—a magnificent ten-point stag. Confronted unexpectedly by these fresh foes, the noble creature came to a terrified halt, and, flanks heaving, nostrils quivering, stared at them with wide-open eyes. But a yelp from the nearest hound and a view "halloo!" from Windybank sent it off again like a bolt from a crossbow.
"Head him back to the main chase!" yelled Master Andrew, and he rode off at a dangerous pace through the trees to carry out his own instructions. Dogs and man obeyed his voice with a will, and the unfortunate stag went bounding from one danger into the jaws of a greater. Terrified by the shouts and bayings behind him, and sorely hampered by the trees and undergrowth, he burst wildly into a glade, hoping to make a quicker dash for safety, but found himself, instead, confronted by a crowd of hunters on horse and afoot. Effectually cornered, he turned to bay, and the first hound that approached was tossed a good dozen yards, landing with a thud and a howl right under the heels of Dorothy's pony. Snapping viciously out at the nearest obstacle, the brute bit the pony just above the fetlock, causing it to rear, spring forward, and throw its rider into the midst of the dogs and within reach of the stag's horns. A cry of alarm went up, and Windybank, who was easily the nearest man, had the opportunity of his life. He hesitated, and his rival, who had quitted the boar hunt when he found Dorothy riding after other game, sprang to the rescue in an instant. With his bare hands he threw the dogs aside and snatched up the unconscious girl just as the stag's antlers made the first savage rip at her riding-dress. The whole deed was done in the twinkling of an eye, and done single-handed. Morgan's quickness and cool daring had proved easily equal to the crisis, and loud cries of "Well done, Johnnie!" greeted the popular hero. For the nonce the quarry was left to the dogs, and Windybank, glancing round, saw that he was the only man still in the saddle; instinctively every other rider had sprung to the ground. No one appeared to notice him; so, conscious that his chance of regaining any share of popular esteem was gone, he swung his horse round and disappeared amidst the trees. His dogs were yelping with the rest of the pack, and not even his groom followed him. A feeling of hopeless loneliness crept over the young man's heart, and his head hung down, weighted with the bitterest thoughts of his life. His conscience was busy with accusing whispers—"Traitor! Coward! Fool!" The unspoken words burnt into his brain, and fired his dark face with the hues of a lurid sunset. He halted; no man could see him, and he listened to the clamour in the glade. He heard an exultant bay from one of his own hounds. The brute dared more than his master, and was taking a bold share in the events of the moment; and the vindictive master vowed to have the brave dog's life for outdoing him.
The spirit of mad hate was driving out the feeling of shame. He vowed with an awful oath that Morgan should share the hound's fate. All men were his enemies; why, then, should he spare them?
A hand of ice was laid on his hand, and he almost screamed with the sudden shock and surprise; he had heard no footstep. He raised his head, to find the stern, set face of Basil confronting him.
"What art thou doing here?" he cried hoarsely.
"Looking after thee."
"Begone, then; I'll not be dogged," exclaimed Windybank wildly. "If these men see us, our dooms are sealed."
"Thine was almost sealed," said Basil curtly. "'Twas in thine heart to play us false. Hadst thou held out the hand of friendship to yonder herd of heretics, thou wouldst have found me to-night both thy judge and executioner. Come, the time is ripe for action. I spare thee because I need thee; but beware!"
Basil took the pony by the bridle and turned its head towards Dean Tower. "Father Jerome awaits thee," he said, "and thy life hangs in the balance. Go!"
And Windybank went.
 The ancient courthouse of the foresters; it still exists.
MASTER WINDYBANK REBELS.
Andrew Windybank slunk away through the forest homewards. He had set out to play the man; he sidled in through his own gateway like a whipped puppy. Not once during his ride did he look back, and he neither hurried nor loitered; the former he would not, and the latter he dared not do, for he felt that Basil was watching him. Never for an instant did he lose the consciousness that the beady, black eyes were upon him. He felt them like two hot points in the middle of his back; they burned and bored, and the flesh seemed to shrink away from them beneath the taut skin.
For some time the sounds of the hunt came to his ears, but he heeded them not. "I am out of the hunt in all ways," he said bitterly. "Bugle-calls are not for me."
There is no more pitiable object than a man suffering under mental and moral defeat. He has lost faith in himself. He has tried, he has failed; and he usually throws his defeat in the face of Providence, accusing the Almighty of desertion. Windybank did so. Desperate with anger and humiliation, he went to his own private sanctum. Father Jerome and Basil were already there, awaiting him. Windybank could not repress a start of surprise when he found that the ex-monk had outstripped him. He had hoped for a few minutes of quiet thought before facing Jerome. A quick wave of anger swept over him when he realized how closely he was "shadowed." His footsteps dogged if he went abroad; his privacy was broken, without so much as a "by your leave," if he stayed at home; he was treated as a puppet, a cat's-paw, a thing that must move only according to the will of another. A flash of light showed him the utter depth of his degradation; and the two basilisks that sat staring and motionless before him were the instruments that had accomplished his undoing. A wild yearning for freedom and vengeance arose in his heart.
"We have been waiting for thee since early morn, my son," said Jerome, breaking the silence. The tone of the speaker's voice was cold, hard, and threatening. The menace in it stung Windybank into rebellion.
"And why should ye not wait?" he cried. "Who, in God's name, are ye to establish yourselves unbidden in my house, dog my steps, threaten me, ruin me with my friends and neighbours, and treat me as though I were a child without will, aims, or desires of mine own? Ye have tarried for me; tarry on until doomsday. Henceforth I'll be master of myself!" Furious with passion, Master Andrew turned to the door.
The effect of this outburst was electric. Jerome sat as one stupefied, and for a bare instant Basil gazed as stonily as he; but he recovered in time to prevent the young man's departure. The yellow-faced fanatic was as quick-handed as he was quick-witted. Windybank had lifted the latch, and his fingers were on the door pulling it open. Basil drew his dagger, held it, poised, by the blade for a moment, then cast it with great force and precision. Master Andrew felt a hot pain in his hand, tried to pluck it back to his body, and failed; it was pinned fast to the door. Basil came forward, drew out the dagger, and led his host to the feet of Father Jerome.
"Thou art drunk," he said meaningly—"drunk with the poison of a wench's flattery. Down on thy knees and crave forgiveness!"
But the master of Dean Tower was thoroughly aroused, and was not to be cowed by a word. He threw Basil from him, and, wounded and bleeding though his hand was, he contrived to draw his sword.
"I'll kneel for forgiveness to no man living!" he cried. "Get ye from my house, or I will drive ye forth!"
Jerome had recovered from his astonishment; he rose up and laid his hand gently on the young man's shoulder. "Thou art beside thyself for the nonce, my son. Let us talk calmly. A host does not draw sword on his guests."
The words were uttered in a smooth, purring tone, and Andrew lowered his hand. He was glad to do it, for it throbbed with pain, and the blood was falling in a quick drip to the floor. His head was reeling, and he spoke stutteringly.
"Ye are not guests of mine; ye are intruders," he cried.
Jerome tried to press him into a chair, but he resisted. "Hands off, father! I can stand."
The Spaniard made no further attempt to coerce the maddened young gentleman, but he took a kerchief from his doublet and carefully bound up the wounded limb.
"A drop of wine, son Basil, for our friend," he said.
Basil went to a cabinet, but Windybank cried out,—
"Touch nothing of mine, thou devil's cub! Dost think I would drink ought from thy hands! When wilt thou be gone, as I have bidden thee? If thou dost not quit, I will run thee through."
Jerome saw that the presence of Basil was a continual irritant to the desperate man, so he himself ordered his satellite to withdraw. Basil obeyed with no very good grace, and the look that Windybank received boded ill. Jerome now placed his victim in a cosy chair, threw open the casement that the fresh breeze from the woods might enter, and brought the glass of wine he had ordered. Master Andrew drank it, then lay back with closed eyes, his brain busy with tumultuous thought. The Spaniard sat and watched him as a wolf might watch a slumbering dog; his brain was as busy as that of the other. Was his plan doomed to failure at the last moment? If the master of Dean Tower failed him at so critical a juncture, he could not see how to proceed. More than ever did the conspirators require a place of refuge, not only for themselves, but for others whom Jerome was daily expecting.