arch in the year 17- was "going out like a lion." The wind blew in boisterous gusts over the Sussex downs, playing havoc with the few trees that existed there, and driving the clouds so fast across the sky that the rain, which was falling, came down only in fitful showers, after each of which there was a lull. The evening had closed in when a coach appeared on the lonely road that crossed the downs some five or six miles from the village of Danesford. It was a large heavy vehicle, and the horses that drew it were evidently tired out.
As they reached the top of a long gradual rise, which seemed almost too much for the six jaded animals, the postilions drew up to "breathe" the horses, and, as they did so, a blast of wind more furious than any that had preceded it made the weary horses stagger for a moment, and the postilions, leaning forward to meet it, anathematised their luck in being out on such a night.
As they stood there a window of the coach was let down and a head thrust out.
"Why do we stop here?" a man asked in querulous tones.
"We but breathe the horses, your honour," answered one of the men. "It is a toughish pull up to the top of the downs here, and it would be well that we should do the rest of the journey at as round a pace as may be, for these parts are uneasy travelling since Dick Dareall's gang took to the road hereabouts."
"Hold your tongue, fool!" was the reply. "You will frighten the women! And get on as fast as you can. This confounded hole we are bound for seems farther off each time I come! But it is worth the journey - it is worth the journey!" The latter part of this speech was uttered in a low tone, and was therefore quite lost to the postilions, who were looking to their harness preparatory to starting again.
The speaker still kept his head out of the window, looking along the road that lay before them, and as he did so the light from the coach-lamp fell upon his face. Master Oliver Ferrers's countenance was not a prepossessing one, even when he felt comfortable and well pleased; but at the present moment weariness, anxiety to be at the journey's end, and the consciousness of being unobserved combined to make it decidedly unpleasant. Such a high narrow forehead and such prominent cheekbones with so square a jaw are unusual; and the pale thin lips closed tightly over the teeth when the face was in repose, but when smiling or speaking a good deal of the teeth were displayed. The nose was slightly aquiline, the eyes, shaded just now by a three-cornered hat held firmly on by long thin fingers, were light-blue and steely.
Ferrers's contemplation of the country was suddenly brought to an end by a woman's voice from the interior of the coach. The interruption seemed displeasing to him - though the voice was a pleasant one - for his straight dark eyebrows became contracted, and a look of intense dislike came into his hard blue eyes. This expression was not to be seen however when he turned to answer the speaker, who continued -
"Is anything wrong, cousin, that we wait so long? I am stiff from sitting still. Might I not alight for a moment?"
"It is scarcely a night on which to take the air, my dear ward," answered Ferrers in an amiable tone. "The men but give the horses a moment's rest, and - there," as the coach began to move on - "you see the stoppage has not been long. We are on Danesford Heath now, but five or six miles from home."
"It is a sad home-coming," returned the ward, who now leaned from the window on her side of the coach, the light of the lamp showing a fair young face, with dark eyes, light golden-brown hair, which curled rebelliously over the edge of the black hood, a sweet face, on which smiles would have been more in place than the sad expression it now bore. "Yet I could not have stayed in town after my dear father died - I felt so friendless, so alone, except for you, cousin!"
"There were not wanting those who would gladly make your life less lonely," said Ferrers, in a meaning tone. "But you are as wilful as ever, Molly, and will listen to no advice!"
"Ah, cousin Oliver," Molly broke in, "I know what you would say! But I have told you, and I tell you again, I will not marry that horrible man! He wants my money, not me - as so many others do. Why do you worry me so?"
"Lord Greybrooke had your father's sanction to address you," answered Ferrers, struggling to keep his voice free from anger. "I merely follow out what I believe to have been his wish."
"At my request my father gave up the idea he once entertained of my wedding Lord Greybrooke, and you know it, cousin. He would never have had me marry against my will! And why would you? Do you wish to see me unhappy? I sometimes think it must be that; for, in spite of your wish to hide it, I know you do not like me, and I know why. But I cannot help being my father's daughter, and inheriting his home and his money - it is only fair that I should do so - nor will I give them up. You are not poor, cousin Oliver, if all that is said be true. Why can you not be friends with me? I have no kin but you." Her voice softened as she uttered the last words, as if she wished to atone for what had gone before. Master Ferrers made no answer, and she went on a little mournfully, "I hoped, when you so readily acquiesced in my wish to visit my old home and spend some time in retirement there, that you had given up all thought of this marriage, and now you harp on the old string once more."
"You misinterpret my words, Molly. I think what I said scarcely called for such a burst of indignation. But, as you have approached the subject, I will own that I have not given up all hope of what I consider would be the best settlement in life for you. So headstrong a young woman as you needs a firmer hand than a guardian's to guide her. Of your accusations against myself I say nothing, save that I would rather you had reserved them for a time when we were alone."
Ferrers tried to adopt a tone of deeply-wounded dignity, but it needed all his self-control to prevent the anger he felt from revealing itself in his voice.
"I ask your pardon, cousin," the girl answered wearily. "It was more than I could do to withhold what was in my heart. But your man sleeps, and you know that I have no secrets from Nurse. Ah, Nurse" - leaning forward and putting her hand caressingly upon the old woman, who sat huddled up in the opposite corner - "ah, Nurse, how I wish we were at home!"
"And so do I, my dearie!" was the response. "I am sure you must be faint from fatigue, for I have never a bone in my body that does not ache; but that would not much matter if I could only be sure we were in safety. But the tales they do tell of that Dick Dareall make me all of a tremble."
"Nonsense, Dame Perkins!" cried Ferrers sharply. "You will only frighten your mistress with your silly tales. One hears a deal more than one sees of highwaymen."
"I am sure I hope it may be so, sir. And it is not for me to gainsay you; but the steward who came up to town when my poor master died told fearsome stories, and vouched for their truth." And, with a slight sniff indicative of dislike for Oliver Ferrers and contempt for his opinion, Dame Perkins relapsed into silence.
Mistress Molly, as the heiress of Danesford Manor was usually called, took no notice of the little passage-at-arms between her guardian and her faithful nurse; what she had heard however made her feel a little uncomfortable; for, even allowing for a goodly stretch of imagination in the account given by Perkins, Molly was perfectly well aware that a band of highwaymen frequented the part of the country through which they were travelling, some of whose exploits had been especially daring; and, though nothing worse might happen to them than the losing of their valuables and being themselves a little roughly handled, still the idea was not a pleasant one, and Molly wished that Perkins had kept her fears to herself.
For a short time the occupants of the coach were silent. Molly's fears were diminishing, and she was beginning to feel very drowsy, when the sound of several horses trotting quickly along the road was heard; and before any one had time to speak, there were shouts to the postilions to "Stop as they valued their lives," and the lumbering vehicle came to a sudden standstill.
The door was flung open by a man wearing a mask, who roughly ordered the travellers to alight. They did so, the two women clinging to each other, and Ferrers, with perfect composure, but with a determined look on his face and one hand thrust inside his coat. As he advanced a step from the coach-door he gave a quick glance around, and, seeing but four men, he turned to the one who had ordered them out of the coach, and addressed him sternly.
"By what right do you stop peaceful travellers on the King's highroad? I warn you that unless you let us go unmolested it will be the worse for you."
"Softly, your honour - softly!" the man returned, with a jeer. "You wait till you get home before you threaten. You can hardly expect to turn the tables on us now."
"I can send one scoundrel out of the world, though," Ferrers rejoined; and, drawing a pistol from an inside pocket, he cocked and fired it before the other could stop him.
At the sound of the shot Perkins screamed, and the men who were holding the horses and binding the postilions came running forward, shooting as they came. For a moment all was confusion, and then the scuffle suddenly ceased, and the men were bending over a prostrate form, which was seen to be that of Ferrers, who had fallen in the struggle with the robbers, striking his head against the wheel. Perkins - who, in spite of her fright, had kept her presence of mind - was about to hasten to his assistance, when she was stopped by Molly, whose voice sounded so faint that for a moment the old servant's heart seemed to stand still from horror.
"Nurse, she said, "don't leave me - at least help me to go with you! I am hurt - but it is not much, I think." The girl turned deathly pale as she spoke, and, by the light of the moon, Perkins could see that she had received a wound in the upper part of the left arm. At the sight of this the woman lost all self-control, and, catching the girl as she swayed for a moment, she let her gradually sink to the ground.
"Oh, the villains - they have killed my sweet child!" she cried wildly. "Help! Help!"
The cry had scarcely left her lips, when, as if in answer to it, came the sound of horses' hoofs, and another man appeared upon the scene.
He wore a mask, and evidently belonged to the attacking party, but seemed of higher rank than the others. He was mounted on a fine horse, and, though his dress was dark and plain, it fitted him well, showing off a straight well-knit figure. He pulled up sharply as he reached the coach, exclaiming as he did so -
"By Heavens, you rascals, you have done fine work here! How dared you take upon yourselves to act without my orders?"
"Would you have us wait and let the prize go by, Captain?" one of the men answered sullenly. "Let us finish the job, as we have had the trouble." And he took a step towards the coach.
The Captain took out a pistol and cocked it.
"The first who moves without my orders is a dead man, Jock Elliot! I am a good shot, my man - better not risk it."
Jock Elliot evidently thought so too, for he fell back among his comrades.
"Now," continued the Captain, lowering his pistol and replacing it in his belt, "whom have we here?" - pointing to Oliver. Before any could answer, Perkins, who had listened to the altercation without daring to speak, now summoned all her courage, and moved from where she had been kneeling in the shadow by her mistress.
"Oh, sir," she said, "whoever you are, if you have any power over these villains, save my mistress, who lies wounded there!"
"Your mistress, good dame?" returned the highwayman. "Whom do you mean?"
"Whom do I mean?" returned Perkins wrathfully. "I mean Mistress Ferrers, who lies there fainting from loss of blood, if it is nothing worse - shot by some of those rascals of yours!" Here the indignant woman was pushed aside by the new-comer, who, at the mention of Molly's name, had swung himself from his horse with an exclamation of dismay, and made straight for the place where Molly lay. Dame Perkins followed in silence. The girl lay upon her cloak, which Perkins had torn open to give her air, and, as the two approached, she sighed and opened her eyes. The stranger bowed low, with bared head, and said, in soft tones that contrasted strangely with the stern voice of a moment before -
"I cannot express my horror and grief that you should have been hurt in this unlucky affair! Will you suffer me to look to your injury? I have acquired a certain knowledge of such things on the battle-field."
Molly bent her head in assent, and the man turned to his followers.
"The cushions out of the carriage at once! Put them there in the moonlight. Who is the man lying by the coach? Master Ferrers? And only stunned? Then take him with you, and put the coach between us and you. Have you never seen a lady before, that you stare so?"
The men obeyed in silence, disappearing and carrying Ferrers with them.
"Now, madam, with the assistance of your woman and myself, you can perhaps get as far as those cushions, so that you may be more comfortable, and I may have light to see your hurt."
"Indeed I am ashamed at having given you so much trouble," replied Molly, whose fears, she scarcely knew why, had much abated. "I can walk quite well with my nurse's arm."
The stranger bowed and busied himself in arranging the cushions, so as to form a convenient seat for his fair patient.
Obedient to his orders, Dame Perkins ripped open the shoulder-seam and sleeve of Molly's gown, laying bare a soft white shoulder and arm. On the upper part of the arm was an ugly-looking wound, which, with a muttered imprecation, the amateur surgeon proceeded to dress as well as circumstances permitted.
"It is nothing serious, madam," he said reassuringly; "the bullet has but grazed your arm somewhat deeply, and, with a week or so of care, it will be healed. But I fear me you will bear the scar for many a day."
"I owe you thanks, sir, for your courtesy," returned Molly. "And I would ask you something more. You seem to have some power over those men, and to wish us no ill. Will you not add to the debt of gratitude we owe you by saving us from Dick Dareall, of whom..."
"You have nothing to fear from the man you name, madam," the stranger interrupted, with a harsh laugh. "I am Dick Dareall; and I beg you to believe him to be less black than he is painted."
Molly started in surprise; but, before she could speak, the sound of voices in altercation broke in upon them, and Oliver Ferrers, apparently quite restored to his senses, and in a great rage, came towards them.
"You, sir," he cried from some distance, "who seem to be in command of these robbers - you had better consider your own interests, and return my watch and chain and purse, all of them of great value! If you do so, you and your fellow-cut-throats shall hear no more of this attempt; but, if not, I warn you that you shall swing for it, one and all!"
"And you, Master Ferrers, beware how you threaten Dick Dareall!" returned the highwayman sternly. "You know that you dare not set the law in motion against me, for fear of what might be discovered! As for the valuables we have lightened you of to-night, they are but poor interest on certain gains of yours!"
Ferrers returned no answer to Dareall's attack. The latter called up one of his men, and, after exchanging a few words with him in a low tone, turned to Molly, saying -
"Your jewels, madam, you will find in safety." Then, drawing nearer, and speaking in low tones, so as not to be overheard, "Whatever is yours is sacred to me. But will you, as a sign of forgiveness for this night's mishap, and as a charm against evil thoughts, give me that little moonstone locket you wear round your neck? Do not refuse what is so humbly asked!"
Surprised and touched, Molly unfastened the ribbon, on which the little trinket hung, and placed it in Dareall's hand, which closed upon hers and the moonstone for a moment, while he whispered very faintly but clearly -
"My thanks shall be in acts, not words. Should you ever be in difficulty, and you receive your locket, no matter how or from whom, you will know that a friend is near who will dare all for your sake! Now then" - loosing her hand and turning to his men - "give a hand to the postilions with their horses and then make yourselves scarce! Master Ferrers, the coach awaits you - and remember my advice! Dear lady, let me put you in the carriage - it is time you were at home and at rest! I will see you to the edge of the heath, and once there you are safe." He handed the women in, hastened the postilions, who were much relieved at the turn affairs had taken, and rode by the carriage-door. Arrived at the end of the heath, he signed to the men to stop, and, approaching the window, bowed low to Molly, with a murmured, "Trust me!" Then, straightening himself in the saddle, he pressed his hat firmly on his head, and, wheeling his horse round, was soon lost to sight.
Some four or five weeks after the eventful journey to Danesford, Oliver Ferrers was seated at the table in the great dining-room of the Manor, upon which the dessert and wine still remained. The lofty room, with its dark panelling and rich hangings, was but dimly lighted by the clusters of wax candles on the table, though the light was reflected here and there on gleaming silver or cut-glass. Oliver lounged in an elbow-chair, reading a letter that had just been presented by a rugged-looking man-servant who stood beside him.
Throwing down the letter, Ferrers glanced up at the servant.
"So, Duncan," he said, "it is droll to see a face like yours on a butler in place of the usual flunkey's face. That old Gregson had outstayed his time! He was more master than man, and useless to boot. A fine outcry there was over the clearance I made; but these old retainers get in the way when new work is to be done. Now you, I warrant me, would serve me well, without asking too many questions."
"That would I, sir!" returned Duncan, in a gruff voice. "I hold that it is not for us to question orders."
"Ha, ha!" sneered Ferrers. "A very pattern of blind fidelity - the blindness and fidelity carefully proportioned, of course, to the pay - eh? You don't take me in, my friend. But, given enough 'filthy lucre,' would you serve me as a trusty gaoler, should occasion require it?"
"That would be no hard service," replied the man. "I would undertake that no one should escape who was left in my charge..."
Ferrers was about to speak again, when the door was noisily opened, and a big heavy man, with flushed face, thick lips, and light bleared eyes, strode into the room. He wore a dark-yellow velvet coat and breeches, his cravat and ruffles were of a delicate lace, and his elaborately-powdered hair was tied back by a black ribbon. Though not drunk, he had been drinking, and was evidently brimming over with wrath.
Lord Greybrooke - for the excited gentleman was no other than Molly's suitor - flung himself into a chair, and, pouring out and drinking a bumper of wine, he burst into a volley of imprecations against his lady-love.
"Why, my lord," said Ferrers, as soon as he could put in a word, "what has happened to put you out? Matters seemed fairly peaceful when I left you to plead your cause with my cousin, an hour ago."
"Your cousin has the fiend's own tongue!" returned the disappointed lover, in angry tones. "When I pressed my suit, taking pains to sugar my words and present myself humbly enough to please her high-mightiness, she merely laughed, and turned all I said to ridicule; and when, roused by such treatment, I grew a little bold, and pressed her hand and attempted to clinch the matter with a kiss, she flung me off as if I had defiled her by my touch, and told me that to live and die Mistress Molly Ferrers was not so poor a fate that she should wish to exchange it for the fetters that would tie her to a man she abhorred and loathed; and with that she turned and left me, before I could reply."
Ferrers listened to this outburst of wounded vanity with a smile in his cold eyes; and, when the enraged Viscount paused to take breath and another glass of wine, he said quietly -
"So you are a definitely-rejected suitor? Then, I suppose, you give up your quarry and retire?"
"By all that's holy," returned Greybrooke, striking the table with his fist, "I have less mind than ever to give up! This heiress, with her airs and her wealth, tempts me more than anything has ever done before. I will make them mine if it be only to read my lady a lesson in return for hers. You owe her no love for her existence, Ferrers; and it would be taking a noble revenge in the eyes of the world to make her a viscountess. Put your brains to work and help me, man! You shall be no loser by it."
"Say you so?" cried Oliver, leaning forward to look earnestly into the Viscount's eyes, while a gleam of triumph came into his own. "Say you so? Then leave off drinking, and listen to what I have to propose."
Lord Greybrooke, suddenly sobered by his companion's earnestness, drew a chair opposite and prepared to listen.
"As you say, I have no reason to like this haughty cousin of mine," Ferrers went on, in cold deliberate tones. "By fair means she will never be yours, by others she may be very easily. What you must do is this. Leave Danesford, as if you had given up all hope, apparently going to London, but remain hidden somewhere at hand. I will speak to my cousin about refusing you, and, as her guardian, command her to accept you. She will refuse, and I shall then deprive her of that old hag Perkins, and remove her, by force, if necessary, to my old place on the coast, or anywhere. While on the road, you must come to the rescue, driving me and my servants off, and take possession of the prize, who will then, for her good name's sake, be obliged to marry you. The latter part of this scheme you must manage."
"Gad, sir, you have hit on a devilish good plan," Greybrooke instantly replied, "and" - with a hideous grin - "I will undertake to make it succeed! Now for terms!"
"I will tell you at once," said Ferrers. "Ten thousand pounds down as soon as Molly is Lady Greybrooke, and you shall hear no more of me."
Lord Greybrooke paused for a moment, and then replied -
"Done - though it is a hard bargain! And now pass the wine. Let us seal our compact in the future."
The two men drew closer together, with their glasses in their hands, to settle the details of their plot, and neither saw that Duncan just then crept noiselessly away out of the darkness which had hidden him.
The day after the scene between Ferrers and Lord Greybrooke was dull and gloomy, and Mistress Molly, as she restlessly paced about her room, pausing now and again to look out at the large bay-window at one end of it, felt much like the weather. The outlook was desolate enough, for, although, the country was pretty in summer, just now it lay flat and uninteresting under thick clouds of mist.
Molly sank upon the broad cushioned window-seat for a moment, and her indignation found vent in words.
"No; he may say what he likes and threaten what he likes, but never, never will I marry that low creature, who is not fit to enter a lady's presence! As to his threats - they are merely to frighten me; but it will take more than that to make me change my mind!" And, with a scornful laugh, she rose and resumed her walk. As she neared the door, it opened, and Perkins entered, looking, as she herself would have put it, "considerably upset."
"Ah, Nurse," cried Molly - "what has kept you? I am well-nigh bursting with indignation, and no one to whom I can speak! You heard him - did you not? How dared he speak to me as he did? How could my father leave me to the care of such a man?"
"He did not know, my dearie," Perkins rejoined - "he could not tell what a demon lurked beneath Master Ferrers's fair seeming. But indeed it was as much as I could do to keep my tongue still when he rated you so, only I have a feeling that for your sake I would do well not to anger him; and you answered him so straight you needed no one to defend you."
"Ay - did I not?" said Molly, a smile for a moment chasing the anger from her eyes. "When he said that he was only following up my father's wishes, and I answered him that my father never thought of my marriage with the sole desire to gratify and perhaps benefit Master Oliver Ferrers, did you note how pale he turned? There must have been something in my speech that fitted closer than he cared." Then, becoming serious again, and throwing herself into a great elbow-chair, she went on, "But Lord Greybrooke is gone, and that is so much to the good. How far off London seems, Nurse - and the gay times we had!" She rested her head upon her hand for a moment and seemed lost in thought. "Do you remember, Nurse, that French gentleman, the Comte de Montbauron? I wonder what became of him? He disappeared so suddenly. How interesting he was! And how well he talked! I often wonder what his life could have been. People used to hint that he was an emissary from the exiled Court; and yet my lady, the Duchess of Marlborough, favoured him much! Ah, well - all that is past, and the present and the future are not so pleasant to dwell upon. Do you think..."
|Jacobites and the Exiled Court|
In the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, the Protestant William of Orange took over the throne of England, exiling the true heir and Roman Catholic convert, James II to France. An English court in exile was set up in St Germain where James's son was proclaimed James III on the death of his father.
The Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 were ruthlessly dealt with, but even as late as 1750 some coal workers during a strike at Elswick declared James III to be their king and finger-bowls were not placed on the royal dinner-table until the accession of King Edward VII in 1901, because Jacobite sympathizers had formerly toasted their king over the water!
"Mistress Perkins," said he, "you will be good enough to get you to your room at once and gather your belongings together. The master's orders are that you leave the house in an hour's time; so look that you be ready!"
A short pause ensued. Both Molly and Perkins were too astonished to speak. Molly had risen and clasped her nurse's hand.
"You are mad!" the girl cried at length, in ringing contemptuous tones. "Your wits must be wool-gathering as well as your manners! My cousin cannot mean what you say! Dame Perkins will not leave me, nor shall I allow her to go!"
"Softly, fair mistress - softly!" returned the man surlily. "You can give no orders here till another year be past. You had best obey without more ado, for I am to use force if necessary."
Molly's heart sank; but she maintained a brave front, and addressed the butler once more.
"And may I ask who has been provided to wait upon me in place of my woman?"
"Of that I have no information to give you, madam," returned the man, civilly enough; and then, turning to Perkins, he told her to hasten, as time was passing.
Perkins had now awakened to the fact that there was nothing for it but to give in. Facing Duncan, and speaking very slowly and deliberately, she said -
"You are only a tool, my man - a fit tool for such a master! You tell him - if he isn't outside to listen - I will let every man, woman, and child everywhere know what is going on here! And, for all Master Ferrers is so proud and domineering, he'd be vexed if folk knew of all his goings-on. Now, my dearie" - turning to Molly - "do you be your own brave self! I will bring some one to help you, or my name is not Susan Perkins!"
Molly flung herself into her old nurse's arms in a passion of tears.
"But what shall I do?" she cried. "What will become of me here alone with that dreadful man? He frightens me sometimes, Perkins - he looks as if he hates me!"
"Never you mind, my dear," Perkins replied, patting her shoulder soothingly. "You bolt your door, and your dressing-room door too" - this in a whisper - "and only open it when you know who is without. And now I had best be gone."
She put the bitterly weeping girl back into her chair; and, turning to Duncan with a short "Now then, my man, I am at your service," she led the way out of the room.
Molly sprang up with a cry of "Nurse!" but stopped aghast at the sound of the key turning in the lock. For a moment she stood still, as if thunderstruck, and then, rushing to the door, she beat it with her hands, screaming "Nurse!" - frantic with terror and grief. No one answered however, and the silence gradually sobered her. Flinging herself upon her bed, she cried herself to sleep.
For a week Molly remained a prisoner, seeing no one but Duncan - who brought her meals - and a rough-looking country girl - who was quite unknown to her, and to expect sympathy or help from whom she soon saw that it would be useless.
At last she made up her mind to demand an interview with her guardian, hoping to be able to form an opinion as to his actual intentions. One afternoon she sent a message, by Duncan, asking Oliver Ferrers to see her. Duncan returned after a while to say that his master would receive her in the dining-room in an hour's time.
|Sacque or Sack Dress|
A loose dress falling straight from the shoulders, worn throughout most of the 18th Century.
It originated in the latter part of the 17th Century when Pepys's wife, "first put on her French gown called sac."
The dull gray day was drawing to a close, and the great dining-hall was already in deep gloom, save where the flaming logs in the big fireplace shed a ruddy light.
Oliver Ferrers was lounging in an elbow-chair on one side of the fire when his cousin entered, and he rose as she came forward. There was a moment's silence as the two stood facing each other, and then Oliver turned to Duncan, saying shortly -
"A chair for Mistress Ferrers! And bring lights."
Molly remained standing by the fire, resting one hand on the great carved chimney-piece. When Duncan placed the tall three-branched silver candlesticks upon the table she turned slowly, and, meeting her cousin's gaze fully and fearlessly, she said, in cold contemptuous tones -
"Well, my good guardian, are you not yet tired of this strange farce of keeping me a prisoner? 'Tis a story that will scarce sound well when the town gossips hear it, and tell it in their own way."
A look of astonishment came on to Oliver's face. He had expected to find the girl greatly intimidated by the measures he had taken, and her sudden attack surprised him.
"You are likely to tire of it first, young lady!" he answered with a frown. "I have pledged my word to Lord Greybrooke that you shall marry him, and I will break it for no girl's whims!"
Molly burst into a peal of laughter.
"I cry you mercy for my merriment," she said: "but surely 'tis only lately you are so careful! I have heard it said that Master Ferrers's word was not of unbreakable material." Resting her arms upon the high back of the chair near her, she looked up at Ferrers with an expression of infinite scorn.
Ferrers turned white from rage, and took a step towards her; and for a moment the girl wondered if she had gone too far.
"Be silent with your ape's repetition of empty words!" he cried, controlling himself with an effort. "The time may come when you would give all you possess to recall them. All your life I have hated you for coming between me and what should have been mine; but, had you fallen in with my wishes and accepted Lord Greybrooke, who does you the honour to wish to make you his wife, I could have forgiven you. There is yet time. Agree to receive him favourably, and I will forget your taunts and your haughtiness, though they have sunk deep, and forgetfulness is not my forte. Persist in your refusal, and I warn you you have to deal with a deadly enemy, and one in whose power you are. Lord Greybrooke's wife you shall be, by fair means or foul, at your own choice!"
"And I tell you, Master Ferrers," answered Molly in a ringing defiant tone - "I tell you that your pains are useless. I will not marry this man who does me the honour of desiring my money and lands, and who, base as he is, is yet less so than his friend, who shows that he can forget where it is a question of gratitude to the dead, and that he can even be brave when his adversary is a girl!"
Ferrers lost all control of his temper, and sprang forward with an imprecation, but just then, to Molly's relief, the door opened, and Duncan came in, bearing a parcel and a letter, which he presented to Molly, saying -
"From Lord Greybrooke."
Ferrers took the parcel, and unceremoniously opened it - exclaiming on seeing a magnificent diamond necklace and pendant - while Molly broke the seal of the letter. It was a flowery epistle, in which the writer said that he could not bring himself to give up all hope without another attempt to soften the heart of her without whom life would be to him but a worthless thing. He begged her to accept the accompanying jewels as a small token of his absolute devotion, prayed her indulgence for not being able to leave London to present them himself, and signed himself, "Your heart-broken, but not despairing servant, Greybrooke."
Molly shrugged her shoulders, and passed the note to Ferrers, who turned away to the light to read it. As he did so, a small note fluttered to Molly's feet, and Duncan, who had remained standing near, picked it up quickly and gave it to her, with a warning shake of the head. Infinitely amazed, she thrust it within her dress.
"You can scarcely now complain of so gallant a lover!" Ferrers said, turning to the girl. "The diamonds would show well in the noblest company, and the note is that of a true lover, and a generous-hearted one. But get you gone - your insolence drives me beyond all bounds, and violence is foolish that defeats its own ends! Take these with you - the sight of them may make you wish for them - women would commit a crime for jewels!"
Molly did not answer; indeed she was trembling from the reaction after the passion of scorn and indignation that had shaken her; also she burned to read the note that lay hidden under her kerchief, and she silently left the room, followed by Duncan, who maintained a prudent silence, and locked the door of her room with much noise and vigour.
When she was safe in her own sanctum, Molly, with trembling hands, drew forth the note and read it. It ran as follows -
"Madam, your sworn servant begs you, if you would escape a cruel fate prepared for you by villains, to trust yourself with him who will show you your moonstone in his keeping. He will lead you to safety."
At this unexpected promise of help when all seemed so hopeless the girl gave way entirely, and, sinking into a chair, she burst into a flood of tears.
The house was very still as she sat there struggling to compose herself. Presently a strange sense of expectancy stole upon her. When would this strange correspondent show himself, and how, and was it really a chance of escape or some ruse of her enemies?
In the midst of her cogitations there was a gentle knock at the door leading from her dressing-room to a little private staircase by which she had been accustomed to set out on her morning rambles through the grounds. No one but herself ever used this staircase, and her heart seemed to stand still for a moment. Taking courage, she went close to the door and asked in a trembling voice -
"Who is there?"
"He who bears the moonstone," was the answer; and Molly fancied the voice was not unfamiliar.
"But," she replied, "I cannot open the door - I have not the key!"
"But I have," was the answer. "I but wait your permission to use it."
For a moment Molly hesitated, and then said firmly and clearly -
"Then come in."
The door was gently unlocked and opened, and, as she had hoped, Dick Dareall stood upon the threshold. Without speaking, he bared his head, and, throwing back his riding-coat, he showed the moonstone attached to a ribbon which was tied round his neck. Then he shut the door behind him, and sprang forward to kiss the hand Molly held out to him.
"Dear lady," he said, "I have little time for explanation! If you would save yourself from the vilest plot ever planned, you must trust yourself to me and fly at once! I pledge you my word to take you safely wherever you may wish to go out of the reach of your persecutors.
"But," returned Molly, almost in despair, "I have nowhere to go! The only friend I have is an aunt, my mother's sister, who would stand by me, I know; but she has fled to France with her husband, who is a Jacobite. What shall I do? I cannot stay here - I am too terrified!"
"Nor shall you," said Dick, pressing her hand reassuringly. "You must come away from here at all cost. I have horses outside, and I will take you to an inn I know of, where the hostess is a good honest woman, whom you can trust. There is no time to lose. I have stayed too long already. Wrap yourself up - the night is chill; and, above all, keep up your courage, for we have a long fast ride before us."
"Don't be afraid," returned Molly. "The mere thought of escape puts new life into me." She was wrapping herself in out-door attire as she spoke, and a moment later she exclaimed, "There - I am ready; let us go! Stay! Why not take these?" - and, picking up the case of diamonds, she gave them to Dareall to keep for her.
After a last look at the rooms, and a grave earnest glance at Dick's eyes, as if to remind him of the absolute trust she placed in him, she passed out silently.
Dick locked the door carefully, and they went down-stairs.
At the bottom a man muffled in a cloak met them. The sight of him seemed to make Molly's heart stand still for a moment in fear that it might be an enemy; but Dick went on, giving up the keys with a whispered word, and the next moment they stood in the keen fresh air.
"This way," said Dick, drawing Molly's hand within his arm; and he led her a few yards to where, beneath a great beech-tree, stood two horses, with a man holding them. Dareall lifted Molly to her saddle and mounted his own horse. "Now," he went on, "follow me, dear lady, and let us make what haste we may!" And they soon left the lights of the Manor behind them.
Far into the night they rode. Hour after hour passed, and the steady pace never varied, the travellers scarcely spoke.
To Molly it all seemed like a dream - an endless weary dream; and, when at last they drew rein before a small house, dark except for the light streaming through the open door, she was so stiff that Dareall had to lift her from her horse and support her for a moment.
At the sound of their arrival a woman came forward, as if she had been waiting for them.
"Is that you, Master Dareall?" she said. "I had well-nigh given you up! Giles" - calling to some one in the house - "here be the guests we expected. Ah, but the poor young lady seems fairly spent! Come in, madam - you are quite safe with us."
"That is right," whispered Dareall, relinquishing his charge. "Mistress Ferrers is in need of all your care, Dame Truscott; and I am glad to see her in your hands."
"Trust to me, sir," answered the hostess. "Moreover, I have some one here whose presence will soothe and comfort the fair young mistress more than aught else!"
So saying, she opened a door, through which a wide flight of polished dark oak stairs could be seen, and, joy of joys, descending them the plump square form and kindly face of Dame Perkins!
"Oh, Nurse - my own dear Nurse, how came you here?" cried Molly, overcome with emotion and a sudden delightful sense of safety as she flung her arms round the good woman.
"Because his honour, the Count there, fetched me yesterday early on a pillion behind his own self, all the way from the hovel where they left me with naught but bread and water, save that Duncan brought me wine and a piece of pasty!"
"Come," said the landlady - "there's a fire and supper waiting you, as his honour ordered, up-stairs in your room."
"How good, how thoughtful you are!" cried Molly, feeling strangely touched by the care and thought that had evidently been given to her comfort. Turning to Dareall, she held out her hand, raising a pair of very wistful eyes to his as she spoke.
"Then I bid you good night, sir! I scarcely know how to thank you; but I shall owe you the best rest I have known for many nights."
Dareall pressed her hand gently, and then slowly released it.
"That you should feel safe and at rest, dear lady, is thanks sufficient," he said.
Molly made a slight curtsey, and, with Perkins, followed Dame Truscott, who stood waiting, with a taper, in the doorway.
A night of tranquil sleep followed, Dame Perkins watching and dosing alternately in a large chair by her darling's side.
Molly was scarcely dressed the following day, and was still engaged in exchanging experiences with her nurse, when Dame Truscott came with a message from Master Dareall to inquire if Mistress Ferrers had slept well and when she would receive him.
"Beg Master Dareall to come at once!" cried Molly, eager to see and thank her deliverer; and she passed into the next room, which served as her sitting-room.
A few moments later Dareall entered. He had laid aside his heavy riding-coat and riding-boots, and wore a plain suit of dark-green velvet, with dainty ruffles at throat and wrists. His powdered hair was carefully tied back with a broad black ribbon; the buckles on his shoes and the hilt of his rapier were of silver. Seeing him thus for the first time in the full light of day, Molly could not refrain from a movement of astonishment.
"Surely, sir, I have seen you before?" she cried.
"You have quick eyes, madam," Dareall returned, with a smile. "Yes, we have met before, though I scarcely hoped to be remembered; and, thinking of how we met again, could scarcely wish it. I am the man who had the honour of dancing with you as the Comte de Montbauron."
A flush rose to Molly's cheeks, and then curiosity was too strong for her.
"But, then, sir, who are you?" she cried. "And how came you to know my straits and to help me out of them?"
"That I will explain as shortly as I can," replied Dareall, placing a chair for Molly and drawing one near it for himself. "First, in right of my mother, who was French, I am Comte de Montbauron; and it was more convenient to use that name than my own, which was in evil odour with the Hanoverian Court. The business I had in London was connected with our exiled sovereign, and it was the failure of our schemes through the treachery of one of our number that made me disappear so suddenly, when it cost me dear to leave London" - with a look at Molly which made her eyes droop. "To disappear from London was one thing, and to leave England another," he went on, after a slight pause. "I was penniless, and must live somehow. Moreover it helped the cause to be linked with the wild fellows who haunt these parts. They had before done me and my mission good service. So I returned to the life I had hoped to quit. And Heaven sent me to your aid. I knew this coast well when my father was alive and we lived close to this very place, and many of the fisherlads had grown up with me and had helped us in communicating with St Germains during the time I was plotting and scheming in London. Many of them were willing enough to assist in spoiling the usurper, and that explains the existence of Dick Dareall's band. I do not defend myself. It was the expedient of a desperate man; but it is over, and I leave this country at once. My presence in England has not been quite fruitless however. It gave me the chance of making Oliver Ferrers repay in part what he owed us. For it was he, and none other, that betrayed us, though only I know it, and I will suffer much ere I speak of it, for the name he bears. But enough of myself; let us speak of you."
He then told her briefly of the vile plot Ferrers and Greybrooke had concocted, and how he had put his own trusty follower Duncan into the house to watch and report to him, how he had made Greybrooke write the letter and send the diamonds by holding a pistol to his head, so that he might have the chance of sending in his own note, and how Duncan had let him in and given him the keys.
"And now," said Molly breathlessly, "what are you going to do with me?"
Dareall could not help smiling at her outspokenness, but he was grave again in a moment.
"You must have some friend to whom I can conduct you, and where you will be safe," he said. "No matter where it is, I will take you there."
"But I have not!" cried Molly, in despair. "The only relative I have is my aunt at St Germains, if she is still there, and she could not stand between me and that man. You cannot leave me in England to fall again into their hands. Ah sir, I implore of you to take me with you - I am too frightened to stay behind!" And, leaning back in her chair, she covered her face with her hands.
Dareall sprang to his feet in amazement, and began rapidly to pace about the room. At last he stopped by Molly's chair, and drew her hands gently down from her face.
"Dear lady, you do me so much honour that I scarcely know how to answer! What you propose is possible only in one way, and that, in my homeless state, I dare not offer you. I do not know what trials and dangers may be in store for me, and how can I ask you to share them? Heaven help me!" - loosing her hands and beginning to pace the room again. "It is maddening to put away all that makes life worth living."
"Then why do it?" Molly said, speaking in soft low tones. "Do you not love me? You said so once."
"By Heaven," cried Dick, springing to her side, and drawing her close to him, "I was a fool to throw away my own happiness! I little thought in London I should win my lady on the King's highway. One kiss, dear one! Ah, that puts new life in my veins! And now to make preparations for our departure this night."
Two years had passed since Mistress Molly's wild flight from Danesford Manor. A bright May sun shone down upon the Mall in St James's Park and the gay crowd strolling there. Two gentlemen were deeply engrossed, the one in telling the other in listening to all the latest gossip from Paris.
"By-the-way," said the traveller, "I rode down to St Germains before I left, to see how the exiled Count fared. It was not exhilarating. The cause seems to have attracted all the out-at-elbows folk in the three kingdoms. Lady S-- was still there, as enthusiastic as ever. And who do you think was with her? None other than pretty Mistress Ferrers, who disappeared so suddenly some time ago."
"You don't say so!" replied the other. "And have you any clue to that mystery?"
"Not much. She is married to that scamp Dareall, who was a highwayman or something like it, and who for some time figured in London society as the Comte de Montbauron. He took the title of count from his mother's side. On the strength of that Louis had made him captain of mousquetaires, and he and his wife appear to live like turtle-doves."
"Greybrooke always swears that it was a dour-looking Scotchman whom they put as a gaoler over the fair Molly that played them false, and let the bird escape," said the London man, with an elaborate bow and smile to a passing dame.
"Well," returned the other, with a laugh, "be that as it may, the fair lady is free, and rejoicing in her freedom apparently. I, for one, have no desire to unravel the choicest mystery of modern times. Such things are so very rare;" and he took a pinch of snuff with an elegant gesture.