BY MARJORIE BOWEN
THE prisoner looked up as they crossed the threshold of the castle; looked up and around him with an air of curiosity and personal interest.
When my lord's secretary came to the little party in the great hall, he was still gazing, in that keen, absorbed manner, at the dark walls that shut him in; for the rest, he stood very quietly surrounded by his four captors.
"What is this?" asked the secretary. He was a young man and seemed depressed; to wear notably that manner of gloom which was the result of living in the huge and lonely castle.
One of the men with the prisoner was from London, in the Government employ, half spy, half constable; he took the leadership naturally.
"We found this man breaking into the castle grounds," he said. "He showed fight, could give no account of himself; the Duke had best see him."
The secretary's eyes ran over the prisoner.
"Is it worth while?" he asked, indifferently.
The man from London was nettled.
"Yes," he said. "What am I down here for? The fellow was making for the coast—for all we can swear, a Papist with a French sloop hanging round the horizon—and after the plots—"
"Ah, plots!" interrupted the secretary. "We hear of nothing but plots now."
"And with good reason. There are more Papists abroad than have been discovered yet."
The secretary was still indifferent.
"Need you have troubled my lord?"
"I think, sir, there is no other magistrate near by ..."
"Well—" said the secretary, and he lifted his shoulders: the men about the prisoner knew what lay behind his manner; my lord was a Papist and more than suspected of complicity in these same plots; it was a rumor not breathed openly, but universally believed, that he was an exile from London and Court favor on account of discovery of his treason, and that, did not the King owe him more money than could ever be repaid, he had shared the end of my lord Stafford. This was no matter of theirs now, anxious as they were to please their masters the mob with fresh victims; two of them were soldiers from my lord Feversham's regiment, quartered near to have an eye on the dangerous; the fourth a nondescript ally of the man from London.
"Take the fellow to town," said the secretary, eying them.
"We want my lord's authority for that—he was captured in the castle grounds."
The secretary turned on his heel.
"This way," he said, and mounted the wide, ill-lit stone stairs.
The castle had been built in the time of the Norman kings, and was little altered from those days, save in the dreariness that had descended on it since the loss of its ancient glory; it lacked the men-at-arms, the squires, the pages, the jesters, the guests coming and going, who had once made its vastness cheerful.
It seemed now a dead and hollow shell, though every stone was intact, and this part at least furnished with a show of great wealth.
The secretary, the little group of men behind him, stopped on a wide landing hung with tapestry.
It was as yet only twilight, but two huge iron arms, painted and gilt, projecting from the wall, gripped in their fists thick tapers that had been lit some time, for they bent either side the fingers that held them, and the wax dripped over the gilt and scarlet.
Between them was a lofty door; the secretary entered and the others followed; the prisoner still looked about him with an air of eager observation.
The room had been rebuilt of late years; the walls were lined with panelling, the ceiling painted; the chimneypiece was handsomely carved, and in the stained-glass window that burned azure in the dusk were the arms of my lord's family quartering fifteen heiresses.
The candles were yet unlit, but a steady fire burned upon the hearth. The secretary lit a lamp that hung by silver chains from the ceiling, and left by an inner door.
The prisoner stood a little apart from his guards, and as the lamp flame leaped up, disclosing the room, his eyes went at once to the mantelpiece, where a portrait of my lord's father was set in the dark wood between two figures of Strength and Charity, that stood in niches under a Grecian canopy.
The painting was dark and stiff, yet powerful in a certain carriage of the head, a locked look about the mouth, as of one who could speak and would not, and a bold, stern expression in the dark eyes.
Below the portrait, cut deep in the wood, was the family motto, "Strength and Charity," on a scroll with the arms beneath.
In the centre of the room, under the lamp, was a table set with gold writing materials, several books, and a milkhued alabaster bust of a warrior; on the floor was a Persian carpet, and, on a rich bench against the wall, a suit of damascened armor, and a crimson cloak.
The prisoner's quick, attentive glance did not miss one of these details; he appeared more interested in his surroundings than his situation.
The others stood at attention, whispering among themselves; the prisoner's arms were tied behind him, and they had taken his weapons away, nor did he show the least sign of the desperate fierceness he had displayed before they were able to capture him in the castle grounds.
Not five minutes after the secretary had left, the inner door opened again, and my lord entered the room.
He held a bunch of violets in his hand and came straight to the table.
The prisoner looked at him with no change in his demeanor; the others uncovered.
"I am sorry to trouble your Grace," began the man from London.
"I am not infrequently disturbed in this manner," returned the Duke. "We do not lack for plots." He laid his violets on the table and seated himself.
He was not above eighteen or twenty, of the middle height and slender, delicate, of a compelling gravity in his bearing and expression, yet of a courteous sweetness in his manner; with all, he had a half-sad air of long self-containment at variance with his extreme youth.
His face showed no likeness to the dark portrait over the mantelpiece; it was pale, still rounded with the curves of childhood; the features aristocratic, sensitive, and regular.
His eyes were gray, soft, and beautiful, well set under level brows; thick curls of dusky brown hair fell on to his shoulders, framing and accentuating his pallor. He was very finely dressed in ash-colored satin, with a gold ribbon in his cravat, and silver threads in his waistcoat; his whole personality was remarkable for an air of proud austerity and serene dignity.
His glance rested without curiosity on the prisoner.
"The government is overzealous in these parts," he said, with the candor of one who disdains to be politic. "I think it becomes tyrannical."
The man from London had his answer ready.
"Your Grace knows the ferment the kingdom is in since the plot was discovered."
My lord seemed to know and despise the plot for a mere political engine; it was not difficult for a man of sense to see more of Lord Shaftesbury than the Crown in this sensational discovery that was shaking the kingdom; he looked away from the captors and addressed the prisoner.
"Sir," ho said, courteously, "have you any reason to adduce for being in my grounds to-night?"
The prisoner drew a quick breath and shook himself.
"I am a stranger," he said, in a low voice. "I did not know I was forbidden."
"That is but reasonable," answered the Duke. "And I, sir, should be pleased enough to set you on your way, yet, to satisfy these gentlemen, you must first answer another question—for what reason were you in this lonely part of the country—and so late?"
The prisoner looked at the floor.
"I was staying in the village," he began.
The man from London interrupted.
"My lord, it is a lie; I have had the village under observation; two hours ago this fellow rode up to the inn, left his horse, and made straight for the sea. Yesterday I had news of a foreign vessel lurking along the coast, and 'tis as plain as can be that this fellow was to meet her to-night—he was late and so broke through your lordship's grounds as a short way—when we, who had followed, stopped him; he made a fierce resistance, and whatever he may have composed since, he could then give no account of himself."
The Duke did not appear much impressed.
"What have you to say?" he asked the prisoner.
"I was on my own business. I refuse to disclose it;" he gave the man from London an ugly look. "Everything is not involved in your damned Popish plot."
"You can say no more?" questioned my lord, looking at him.
"I will not."
"Your Grace hears!" cried the man from London.
"I hear no treason, sir," said the young Duke, coldly, "nor do I see any reason to connect this man with plots—false informers are common, and I would not on slight grounds send a man to London under suspicion now."
He picked up the violets and laid them down again.
"Set the man at liberty," he said.
"Your Grace is too careless." The man from London stepped to the table. "We found this on the prisoner; two pistols, and this—"
He placed a red leather case with silver clasps among the quills and papers.
The prisoner made an impetuous movement, quickly checked.
"Aha!" said the man from London, triumphantly.
"What is here?" asked the Duke, with dislike of his task.
He opened the red case; it contained a packet of letters tied round and round with yellow silk and sealed in two places with a wax of a curious green color, and one loose paper, also sealed; there was a writing in cipher across one corner.
"If your Grace will open them ..."
"I can see no occasion to open these papers, sir. I think you encroach upon your duty."
The young man spoke with disdain and weight; he leaned back in his chair and looked at the prisoner.
"Will you give me your word, sir, these papers contain nothing treasonable?" he asked.
"They treat of private matters, my lord," was the low answer.
"Your Grace sees he is evasive," put in the Government man.
The Duke slightly frowned; he again addressed the prisoner.
"You make it difficult for me—I have no wish to send you to London—a little frankness, sir, would best serve my wishes and yours."
The prisoner moved his head and moistened his lips; his manner showed controlled resentment and sullenness.
"If your Grace," he said, in a labored fashion, "will release me—I assure you, I swear, I am innocent of all plots ..."
He paused; my lord, with the violets to his lips, was watching him.
"I am in a situation which is difficult to explain—I—"
Again he came to a stop.
"What are these papers?" asked my lord, lowering his gray eyes to them.
"Your Grace, private matters."
"What is your name?"
"One of no importance." This with some fierceness.
"Indeed, you must answer me, if I am not to give credence to your guilt."
The man from London interrupted.
"There is no need for anything further, my lord: send the man to London."
A slight flush overspread my lord's fair face.
"For Francis Dangerfield to swear his life away?" he said. "I will have more proof than this first."
He picked up the loose letter.
"By your leave, sir, I must open this, since you will not be more free with me."
The prisoner came swiftly forward and stood at the table.
"Will your Grace," he said, earnestly, "send these men from the room first?"
My lord paused and looked up.
"Why?" he asked.
The prisoner, who had been hitherto in the shadow, stood now directly under the light of the silver lamp.
He was a man of no more than forty, but his eyes and mouth were deeply lined, and there was no look of youth on his cynical face; he was powerfully made, not tall, but erect, and dressed in velvet—the garb of a gentleman. Gazing steadily at the Duke, he repeated his request.
"I entreat your lordship not to open that letter until we are alone and, by everything that can have any weight with you, to send these men away."
There was so much of force, desperate, sincere appeal, intense feeling in his speech that the youth to whom it was addressed stared at him with some wonder.
The tired brown eyes and the clear gray eyes held each other a moment's space.
Then my lord spoke.
"Very well. ... Why not?"
The man from London had a hundred reasons; but the young Duke's calm authority overruled him; he and his followers went sullenly from the room to wait on the head of the great stairs.
With their going was silence; only the distant, vague beat of the sea, and the complaint of a rising wind striking the windows, broke the stillness.
My lord still held the letter.
"If you will tell me no more, I must read this," he said.
"I told you that it was a private matter, but you will not take my word," returned the prisoner, fiercely.
Now he was alone with his judge, his demeanor had changed; his manner was impatient, almost insolent.
My lord, who from not considering him at all had been drawn to some interest, regarded him with inscrutable, wide eyes, and broke the seal of the letter.
The prisoner interrupted.
"Will you untie my hands?" he asked.
His face had a curious dead pallor, his mouth strained.
My lord gave a half-glance at the pistols lying where the man from London had left them among the papers.
"The ropes cut my wrists," said the prisoner, hoarsely.
The Duke moved the pistols to beside his own seat, then rose and untied, with some difficulty, the skilful knots.
He returned to his chair in silence, and the prisoner crossed to the fire and with a little shudder held his hands out to the glow.
My lord opened the letter, glanced down it carelessly, then more attentively, turned it over to see the last lines, then raised his eyes swiftly to the other man, who was watching him with an expression of hatred.
"Well, my lord, read it," he said.
Without an answer the Duke turned again to the letter.
It bore neither name of place, nor date, nor any term of address, but commenced at once in a firm handwriting with these words:
"I have been more successful than I dared to hope.
"The Plot, as you will have heard, is shaking the country, Shaftesbury is the most forceful man in England, and no Papist is safe. There is no need for me to name the lords who have lately suffered.
"As for our private affairs, you must know that I have managed them very well; with the aid of public feeling (and every one now thinks a Papist the devil himself) and my own talent for counterfeit handwriting I have involved my old enemies beyond redemption. You remember our oaths? ... not to spare.
"The little Duke is ruined for his father's sake and for my father's memory; he dare not show himself at Court nor near London, but hides in one of his great mansions—perhaps the castle I shall have to pass to-night.
"The King owes him much, but I will spring a mine under him no royal hand shall save him from; I look to see his head fall as fell the heads of Montrose and Derby, so I have put him in the inner plot to kill the King.
"You say you still walk with God in the old faith and that it comforts you in your exile, and ask me of myself.
"I am not what my father was; how could I be? I know not what I believe, I have soon many strange things since I was a godly man; it is pleasant at least to be avenged.
"You will say I am careless and that this should be in cipher, but I will deliver it to Campion myself.
"The country is riddled with spies, but our rendezvous is so lonely I fear not to be discovered. I am supposed in London, where I gave evidence last week.
"Continue with your share of the business; send me what news you can; 'The Woolpack' is safe enough and not suspected of anything more serious than owling.
"Your last letters from Lord S—— to the Spanish were useful; a cry of foreign invasion always works.
"Be careful and be hopeful. I look to see you in London yet."
The letter ended as abruptly as it had begun; my lord laid it down, and looked round at the prisoner.
"You wrote this?"
The man turned with his back to the fire.
"To whom is it written?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"I think I can guess—an exile in Holland, probably a regicide."
"Yes, a regicide."
The young Duke moved slowly in his chair so that he faced the prisoner.
"And you are one of the authors of this infamous plot: an Gates, a Dangerfield, a Bedloe—"
"Listen to me—my name is Martin Bampfield."
The Duke, pale, cold, gazed at him with unmoved eyes.
"That name is nothing to me."
"It is the name of one who hates you and all your house."
"I have never heard it before."
"I think you have, my lord."
The prisoner's eyes were hard and narrowed; the red light of the fire flushed his swarthy face as he half swung round with a heavy gesture of his hand to his heart.
"I do not know you," came my lord's grave young voice, "but it seems you are the man who has slandered me to the King and to the country."
"Yes—I—yours is a great name, sir; not so great I could not drag it down—but this is your turn—these papers clear you and damn me."
"Why did you do it?" asked the Duke. "What was I to you?"
Martin Bampfield cast his eyes slowly round the wide chamber.
"My father died in this room," he said. The Duke's beautiful mouth tightened.
"My father was shot by your father in this room—that man I write to was there, and he described it to me often—to the figures here of Strength and Charity." He smiled sarcastically.
"Your father was a rebel?" asked the Duke, very coldly.
"My father was a patriot," said Martin Bampfield. "He was shot here, in this room."
"He was caught in the castle, he and this other man, and they were brought here—"
"Spies," said my lord, shortly.
"—and your father ordered them to be hanged as Cromwell's men; but, all unarmed as they were, they showed such fight that one escaped ... and your father shot the other himself as he ran to the door."
"Well?" said the Duke, haughtily.
"Does your lordship remember it now? It was before you were born, but I think some one told you the story of John Bampfield, preacher."
"I have heard of the end of John Bampfield, spy," answered the Duke.
"But I have not given it much thought."
The other moved a step from, the hearth.
"Would you have done as your father did?"
My lord slightly lifted his fair, level brows.
"I thought so—I meant to bring you to the block—"
My lord folded up the letter.
"You are a false informer, a defamer of innocence, a man without honor or conscience—what can I do with such as you?"
"It is very easy," said Martin Bampfield. "You hold your vindication and my ruin in your hand."
My lord rested his elbow on the table and took his chin in his hand.
"Why did you wish those men sent from the room?"
"Because I desired to settle this affair with you alone."
The Duke did not alter his easy position; the austere calm of his youthfulness was in no way troubled; his eyes, wide and clear, held the other in a searching, steady look.
"You speak as if there were a feud between us," he said.
The prisoner came a step nearer the table.
"There has been a feud between our families—always; you have not heard of it, belike, but we always hated each other, and in the Civil War it culminated ... in this room. We are different in everything, in rank, in creed, in fortune. ... I am not what my father was, but what the times have made me—though at heart a republican always and vowed to vengeance on Papists, such as you. Listen to me—under the Lord Cromwell I was a great man, and your father was an exile in Flanders—then the slothful King came back for the curse of England, and your house rose again—the Earl became the Duke ... died in court favor ... and I—I changed with fortune. And so, forgotten, I worked against you and your proud name ... the plot ..."
"Stop!" the Duke interrupted, imperiously. "This plot is a fabrication—you are telling me that?"
Martin Bampfield smiled.
"No—I tell you what you know—that the lies that exiled you here were of my making—as for the rest—I betray nothing."
The Duke never moved.
"You and your kind have sent innocent men to the block," he said.
"There, God help me, would I have sent you, and never repented it."
In the pause that followed was the insistent and mournful sound of the sea, the hurrying passage of the wind past the mullions, and the strong ripple of the flames on the hearth.
"Well," said Martin Bampfield, "why do you not call those men in and say, 'Here is no Papist intriguing with France, but one of the coiners of the Plot—a Cromwellian, a republican—take him to London—to Tyburn.'"
The Duke picked up the bunch of drooping violets and held them against his lips.
"You have done me a great wrong," he said, coldly. "Perhaps the greatest wrong in any man's power to do another ... you have disgraced me, covered my name with shame, broken my career at the beginning ... it is strange you should have fallen into my power."
Martin Bampfield moved back toward the fire.
"Fortune lies with you again," he said, fiercely. "Make an end of it ..."
"I never harmed you," replied my lord. "I scarcely knew your name."
The prisoner made an impatient gesture.
"I am glad I did what I did—" he swung round abruptly. "I tell you, could I get my hand on one of those pistols I would burn that letter and shoot you, and lie, and lie, until your name was never cleared."
My lord raised his head from his hand.
"This hate is a strange thing—I think I hate you, Mr. Bampfield ... a feud, difference of code, of King, of God—you are indeed hateful to me."
He made a half-shuddering movement with his fair right hand.
"What need for so many words?" demanded the prisoner, sullenly. "Send me to my death from the spot where my father was slain. Well, I may have stumbled from the altars where he worshipped. I shall find them again in the end, and I thank God, my lord, that I met you and told you what I had done."
The Duke slightly frowned.
"Why, this is very paltry—and yet, I think you are sincere, which is a marvellous thing. ... Our gods are indeed different, Mr. Bampfield."
He still held the violets, and now laid them down beside the pistols at his elbow.
"What are these?" He took up the other papers that were bound together with the long yellow silk strands.
"Will not your Grace open them?" sneered the other. "You have the pistols and a bell at your elbow—if we were equally matched, they would be in the fire first."
My lord looked at him keenly, and broke the silk.
Various letters and papers fell out on to the table.
At the sight of them the prisoner made a step forward.
The Duke's delicate hand closed over one of the pistols.
"As you remind me, I am armed," he said, while a faint flush overspread his features. "Keep your distance, sir."
Martin Bampfield smiled bitterly.
My lord looked at the documents; they were of varying degrees of importance; keys to cipher, accounts of meetings, lists of names, letters from Flanders, addresses of secret printing-presses, copies of prayers—much to incriminate the obscure, perhaps harmless plotter—nothing to clear the innocent accused.
The young Duke looked up from his scrutiny.
"You know better than most, Mr. Bampfield, that, in the state of ferment you have roused the country into, in the heat and confusion now existing, there is little judgment exercised, little mercy shown. The Popish bugbear is nearly dead—a reaction would claim much blood—do I make myself plain?
"These papers of yours would set the mob on the Dissenters as it has been set on the Papists—there are a great many names here, Mr. Bampfield—" he looked in a straight, commanding way at the prisoner, who returned an insolent glance.
"I and those others are in your power —need you enlarge on the theme? Call in those men—you have no cause to be tender with them nor to love me."
"Mr. Bampfield—" my lord was gathering the papers together; he looked up abruptly. "Did you not desire those men from the room—did you request me to loosen your hands with no idea of these pistols?"
"Maybe," smiled Martin Bampfield.
My lord's eyes were disdainful and mournful: his delicate and child-like face expressed a half-grieving judgment.
"Have I clearly understood?" he said. "You, from hatred of my name, my creed, my class, my person, have forged the lies that make me a traitor and an assassin—you would have brought me to a dishonorable death—you avow this?"
"I do avow it," answered Martin Bampfield. "Your father shot mine, and T would have caused your death very gladly."
The Duke glanced at the alabaster bust; he had brought it from Italy; it represented St. George; serene, brave, youthful—the Church militant. My lord's name was George.
"A Dutch vessel is waiting for your letter near the coast?" he asked.
"For how long?"
"Awaits a signal from you?"
"Yes—you need not ask me what it is."
"I have no occasion to know," replied my lord. "That vessel will take no letter, Mr. Bampfield—it had better take a passenger."
Through his speech was the steady sound of wind and sea, the fainter whisper of the fire as it burned to a clear red heart of liquid flame.
The prisoner turned about; his nostrils were distended, he roughly bit his lower lip.
"What do you mean?"
My lord looked not at all at the man whom he addressed, but at the bust and the bunch of violets.
"There are more ways than one from this castle—you had better leave before the Government men return."
Again Martin Bampfield asked quickly:
"What do you mean?"
The Duke rose, and lifted his eyes, still not to the prisoner, but to the portrait above the chimneypiece, between the figures of Strength and Charity.
"You will be safe in Holland—more I cannot do for you. If you show yourself in London again—do not fear but I shall know of it—if you again defame the innocent, I shall speak."
"Oh," said Martin Bampfield, half under his breath. "You mean that I am a free man?"
"And that I may go unmolested to the coast?"
"Go and join the regicides in Flanders, the Calvinists at the Stadtholder's court, Mr. Bampfield. I think there is no longer a place for you in England."
The prisoner came fiercely up to the table.
"Why are you doing this?"
"My reasons are not for your comprehension, sir—I would advise you to leave—at once."
He pointed to the inner door by which he had himself entered.
"In a few seconds you can he out of the castle—in a few moments by the sea."
Martin Bampfield drew himself up and half laughed.
"So—are you a fool—is this a thank-offering for your vindication?"
He pointed to the open letter lying before my lord.
"Or are you hoping I shall refuse to go? But I never claimed to be a knight errant. I leave, and with no gratitude, my lord."
With an uneasy, lowering defiance he swung toward the inner door.
"One moment," said the Duke.
Instantly, suspiciously, the other turned to face him.
My lord, standing full in the gentle light of the silver lamp, looked very young, very slight, though he held himself with a grave loftiness.
"Well?" demanded Martin Bampfield, savagely.
"There are your properties," with a little sweep of his hand he indicated the table before him. "Take them."
Martin Bampfield stared.
"I—I—" he stammered, paused.
"You will take them, Mr. Bampfield; they are of no use to me."
Slowly the older man neared the table.
"What game are you playing?" he asked, wiping his lips.
"Ah," said my lord, a little wearily. "I pray you—haste."
Martin Bampfield took up the packet.
"So—you will be generous—but the letter?"
"It is yours," said my lord, never moving from his erect position. "You know what it means to you?"
The Duke smiled.
"It means to me, sir, nothing—seen at Whitehall, it might mean something to you."
"I advise you to destroy it, Mr. Bampfield."
For a moment they gazed at each other, then Martin Bampfield picked up the letter.
"You think I will show it myself." He gave an unsteady, forced laugh.
"I know you will not."
"Well, you are right—"
He crossed rapidly to the fireplace. "You will not snare me with your fine chivalry—"
With his eyes watchfully on the Duke he cast the letter on to the flames.
The youth made no movement, and did not change his faint smile; Martin Bampfield stared at him, baffled.
As the letter twisted into a blackened curl, he approached the table again.
"I don't understand ..." he began, thickly.
"There is no need," answered my lord. "These also are yours." He pointed to the pistols lying before him.
"Your pistols, yes."
Martin Bampfield hesitated.
"You want ..." he broke off. He bit his lip. "You mean me to take them?"
"Yes—I have no need of them."
"You know ... I would have killed you—"
"Yes, I know."
"Why are you giving me these pistols?"
My lord's smile deepened.
"Different breed, different creeds, Mr. Bampfield, as you said yourself."
Martin Bampfield took up the weapons; my lord moved round the table and touched the silver bell behind St. George; then lie lifted his eyes and looked at the other.
There was just the table between them; Martin Bampfield slipped one pistol into his belt; he held the other and fingered the trigger; his mouth was working nervously and his heavy brows were drawn into a frown.
The Duke moved from the table and went to the fireplace. He stood so, with his back to the room, holding out his hands to the clear glow of the fire.
The little bracket-clock with the swinging weights struck the half-hour; the wind had abated and only called softly at the latticed panes.
"Curse you," said Martin Bampfield, below his breath; he flung the pistol on the table.
My lord looked round.
The inner door opened to admit the secretary; his master gave him a little smile.
"Mr. Marston, you will take this man to the coast, the quickest way that may be, and there leave him—I think, Mr. Bampfield. that will be convenient for you."
The prisoner made no answer.
"You will be secret," said my lord, "and as quick as may be. I shall miss your company—go armed—good-night, Mr. Bampfield."
The secretary bowed.
Martin Bampfield looked over his shoulder at my lord, clutched at the breast of his coat, frowned, and bit his lip.
Something lingered on his tongue, curses or thanks; but the secretary touched him on the arm and the moment passed. With an awkward, sullen step and no backward glance he followed the young man from the room.
As the door closed after them, my lord stepped up to it and slipped the finely wrought iron bolt.
He stood for a moment looking over his shoulder with an absorbed expression in his eyes; then he crossed to the other door and opened it on the men waiting without.
"Sirs," he said, courteously, "will you enter?"
They came into the warm, pleasant glow of the fire and lamplight; seeing the prisoner was not there, the man from London gave a quick exclamation.
"Sir," the Duke addressed him, "I have administered justice to that man in mine own fashion—he will not trouble England, nor need you think further of him."
"He is gone?"
"Your Grace hath let him go?"
"He was a plotter?"
"And those papers, my lord?"
"Were of no consequence, sir."
The man from London could not disguise his anger.
"Before God, your Grace took something on yourself."
My lord looked at him gravely.
"So do you, sir, to speak to me in that manner."
"It was my duty, my lord, to take that fellow to London."
"You are absolved from it, sir."
"You know what color this will have put upon it, my lord?"
"I can imagine," said his Grace.
"It will be believed that this man knew too much of your lordship—that those papers contained matter you were glad to hush up, and that you were glad to buy the silence of an accomplice—"
My lord flushed as he answered:
"In this district I am the law, sir. What is thought at Whitehall does not touch us now—I have no explanation to give save that the man was my enemy."
"Sirs—I would be left to my own leisure."
The man from London turned to the door; the other three were staring at the Duke.
"Very well, my lord, very well," he said, angrily, "but this tale will brand you as a Papist plotter. You may believe me."
He bowed to the slim youth by the table, who returned it with a grave inclination of his head, and with an air of anger left the chamber, his followers behind him.
My lord, when the echo of their clumsy footsteps had died away, unbolted the inner door. Then he went to the window and lifted the dark curtain from the lattice.
The new moon was riding through heavy clouds, casting black shadows over cliff, field, and tree, showing now and then the distant sparkle of the sea.
My lord unlocked the casement, and opened it to the lonely night.
The earth lay mysterious and rich beneath the white spaces of the tumultuous sky; it was cold, with fitful gusts of wind.
My lord stood there, resting his head against the mullions, one hand to his breast, and smiling out upon the moon-scattered darkness until the quiet young secretary returned.
"Ah, Mr. Marston—that is accomplished?"
"The fellow left me, sir, and soon after I saw a boat put off from under the cliff," said the secretary. "He was an ungrateful churl. He sent this message to your Grace—" Mr. Marston hesitated.
"Well?" My lord closed the window.
"'Tell the Duke,' he said, 'that because he is a fool, the feud is not ended.'"
The Duke was silent; the secretary looked at him with an intense curiosity.
"My lord," he asked, abruptly, "this will go against you in London—why did you do it?"
My lord drew a passionate breath.
"Because I hated him," he said, quietly. "Even as my father must have hated his ... in this room ... I hate him. That is the reason, Mr. Marston.