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Title: The Buff Gauntlet
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: March 2012
Date most recently updated: March 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Buff Gauntlet
Author: Fred M White

*

(in the "Windsor.")

Published in The Daily News, Perth, W.A. Thursday 10 October, 1907.

*


CHAPTER I.


It was a bitter pill to swallow; still, there was grim satisfaction in
the fact that the garrison had been a thorn in the side of Cromwell for
three years past. But Basing House had fallen at last, and the great
general had engineered the attack in person. The noise and roar of the
fight had not yet died away, the chill October air rang to the clash of
steel and the bursting of petronels, here and there the conflict spurted
up again like a fire that is unquenched.

The rooms of the big house reeked with the smell of powder, on the walls
the tread of heavy feet thundered, beyond in the darkness of the
courtyard lay a huddled heap of the garrison. Cromwell had been in the
thick of the fight awhile ago, and now he was no more to be seen. Not
that it mattered much, seeing that the house was won and the long siege
ended. There was a high wind outside, and the hangings of the walls
bellied fiercely to the draught. A woman came scudding across the great
hall and ran into the refectory to the right. Colonel Harker's brows
knitted as he noticed her beauty and the richness of her dress.

"This is no place for you," he said sourly. "Unless it may happen that
you are a spy."

"I am no spy," the woman said. "I am looking for my husband. If he is
here----"

The girl--for she was little more--came to an abrupt pause, as if
fearful that she was saying too much. She seemed to be timid and in
great distress, though there was a suggestion of firmness in the little
mouth, and the big, blue eyes did not lack courage.

"Who are you that comes here in a case like this?" Harker demanded.

"I am Sybil Harcombe, at your service, sir," the girl replied--"wife of
Sir Walter Harcombe, who lies either dead or seriously wounded here. I
came----"

"You came over here from Harcombe in the thick of the fight!" Harker
exclaimed with uplifted eyebrows. "True 'tis that these children of evil
do not lack courage. I must tell my Lord General of this. It may be no
secret to you, madam, that Cromwell is anxious to meet your husband--a
traitor like that."

"My husband is no traitor!" Lady Harcombe replied hotly. "He came
amongst you with his life in his hands to learn your plans. That he
tricked and fooled your master I hold to be greatly to his credit. Do
you call your creature Claypole a traitor? And yet he came into the
garrison with the foul intent of betraying the house, as he has done."

"Claypole's service was rendered to the Lord," Harker said with a
certain sour enthusiasm. "Your man serves the Host of Darkness. If he is
here----"

Harker, tapped the hilt of his sword significantly. Sybil Harcombe did
not need to be told what would be the fate of her husband if he fell
alive into the hands of the Roundheads. It was sufficient that he weaned
himself into the confidence of the Protector and gained more than one
valuable secret. It was the kind of thing that Cromwell did not forget
nor forgive.

And there was a new savour in the successful siege in the fact that
Walter Harcombe was behind the walls of Basing House. A fresh blast of
wind shook the arras again, a sound of strife burst forth, a man cut and
bleeding staggered into the room. There was a sally of the garrison, a
last despairing effort in the courtyard, he said. With something on his
lips that would have passed for an oath from a Cavalier, Harker hurried
away. The heavy door banged sullenly behind him, but still the arras
stirred. Then a slim hand with rings upon, it pushed the heavy stuff
aside, and a voice whispered the name of Sybil. She crossed the floor as
quickly as a fawn.

"Walter!" she whispered. "Walter! Surely God is very good to me
tonight."

"My faith! but that is open to doubt, dearest," the man huddled on the
floor behind the arras groaned. "Here am I with my sword-arm broken and
a hole in my leg as big as a Roundhead's hypocrisy. I managed to crawl
here with all the fight gone out of me, and old Noll standing there not
ten yards away, looking as if he's lost his self-respect and found his
true value. If he had only known!"

Sybil Harcombe shivered as she bent down and kissed the speaker. The
spirit and flush of conflict had not yet quite died away, the clash of
steel could be heard, and the sounds of musketry firing. The sounds
moved as the fugitives were chased from one part of the house to
another. When order was restored, doubtless a careful search would be
made, and the fate of Walter Harcombe was as good as sealed.

And yet there was a smile on his face, and naught of fear in those dark,
insolent eyes of his.

"Cromwell will be back again," Sybil whispered. "'Tis said that he had
raised the siege two days ago and pressed north, where he and his
Ironsides are badly wanted, but for it that you were within the walls.
Though why he has so fierce a hatred of you----"

"Because I know too much, sweetheart," Harcombe smiled. "There were
private papers I became possessed of--the story of an early youth none
too well spent. Ecod, mistress, that man is at heart still one of us! Is
he not the grandson of old Sir Harry Cromwell, of Hinchinbrook, who was
the very pink of what a good Cavalier should be? Did not my father hide
Noll himself at Harcombe Place what time----"

"Hush!" Sybil whispered. "We are burning the golden moments. They know
not how I came here, they know nothing of the passage from here to
Harcombe Place. Lie there till I see that the coast is clear. There is
no time to be lost."

Sybil sped away, as if eagerly and piteously looking for some dead
friend. The last embers of the fight had been stamped out under the
heels of the Ironsides, the guard had been set in the big courtyard,
Colonel Harker and the rest were making a hasty meal in the hall. Sybil
came back presently with her finger to his lips.

"Come on," she said. "With the blessing of Providence, we shall reach
the staircase. Lean on me, dear husband. Courage! You are worse hit than
I thought for. But once at Harcombe Place, and you shall have all the
attention possible."

They crawled painfully across the hall and up the flagged staircase.
Sybil had snatched off her husband's wig and wrapped him in a cloak that
she had taken from a Parliamentary solider, who had no need of such
things in future. These were stern, hard times, and the girl's fingers
did not so much as tremble. A big Puritan stood at the top of the
stairs, with his petronel in the hollow of his arm. He would have
challenged the couple as they came near, only Sybil signed for him to
let them pass. Before the fellow could make parley, Sir Walter had
tripped him neatly, so that he came clattering headlong down the stairs,
and lay yelling and moaning there as if the Father of Lies were after
him.

"Now, quick!" Sybil cried. "You must make an effort, dear heart. Lean on
me; let me bear the whole weight of your body. God be praised, we are
here at last!"

With a desperate strength Sybil dragged Sir Walter into a little closet
and closed the door behind. She was trembling and yet with her
exertions. She fumbled along the wall till her hand touched an iron
knob, and on this she pressed, with the result that the stone wall swung
round, and a long, dark tunnel stood like the throat of a wolf. As the
wall fell back again, there came yells and cries from the staircase. But
the danger was past, and Sybil stood trembling in the velvet folds of
the darkness, crying now like a very woman. Harcombe's uninjured arm was
about her, and she was weeping on his shoulder.

"Come, mistress," he said, "do not give way yet. You are as brave as you
are beautiful, and no man can say more than that. The danger is done."

"I am not so sure of that," Sybil said as she pressed forward. "Cromwell
used to come here in the brave days--aye, and to Harcombe Place in your
grandfather's time, too. Maybe he, too, had heard of the secret
passage."

"Maybe," Harcourt said grimly. "But there is another secret at Harcombe
Place, that is known only to you and I and one other. If Noll comes
there, you will know how to act."

"Aye, I shall know how to act," Sybil said with a certain fierce
indrawing of her breath. "Whatever happens to me, you shall be saved,
because the King has need of you. The knowledge that you possess may
crown the King's troops with victory yet. It was a cruel, hard fate that
shut you up in Basing House so long. If you had thought of the
passage----"

"Dear heart of mine, I did think of it. But there were traitors in the
house. I was watched night and day. And if those traitors had known,
they had killed me treacherously and filled the house with Ironsides
from Harcombe Place by means of the passage. I tried it once, but the
danger was too great."

In the darkness the passage seemed to be interminably long, but the end
came at length. Sybil had studied the place till she was as much at home
in the pitchy darkness as she had been in broad daylight. Her slim
fingers found the spring, a panel slid away, and a dazzling shaft of
light came pouring into the tunnel from the hall at Harcombe Place. The
old house, with its deep moat--the old house, part of which was below
the bottom of the moat--seemed strangely, painfully silent after the
turmoil of Basing. Harcombe could still hear the hum of conflict, like a
revolving wheel in his brain.

"Get me a cordial, sweetheart," he said--"strong waters of some kind;
and then old Andrew shall carry me to bed, for my arm hurts me
grievously. It is good to get away from there--in the name of our Lord
the King! what is that?"

Harcombe pointed with his long, buff gauntlet to a conical object lying
on the oak, gate-legged table in the centre of the hall. It was nothing
more nor less than a soft felt hat with a buckle at the side, a strange
object to be seen in Harcombe Place, where everything that had the
slightest savor of Puritanism was rigorously excluded.

"I am not suffering from any noisome vapors," Harcombe went on. "My mind
is quite clear. So, therefore, that is the hat of an Ironside soldier,
who is evidently making himself quite at home here in the house of my
forefathers--some low scullion who should find a proper place in the
kitchen. What has become of Andrew; that he----"

Sybil suddenly laid a finger on her husband's lips. For from the dimness
of the stairway an aged servant was signalling violently. The house was
strangely quiet. Harcombe caught the suggestion that there was danger of
some kind in the air. Sybil crept up the stairs to the old servant,
whose face was white and agitated. He looked like a dim vision of fear
in the light of the torches in the corridor.

"What is it, old friend?" Sybil asked. "Where does the danger lie?"

"There in the dining-parlor," the old man muttered. "Fierce men
searching the house; a party there outside, so that retreat is cut off;
and the devil himself in the parlor."

"The devil himself! Andrew, do you mean to say----"

"Aye, indeed, my dear mistress. He came just in and took possession, for
all the world as if he had been born to it. Nobody else but Oliver
Cromwell."

Sybil could scarcely refrain a cry. Cromwell there in the house! How
could he have guessed--how could he possibly have found out? Sybil was
too astonished to do anything for the moment. Then the vividness of the
danger came back to her with startling force. Cromwell was there; he had
his bodyguard with him; and only the thickness of an oak door stood
between him and the man he needed.

"Where are the servants?" Sybil asked. "Where are----"

"All taken away but me," Andrew said sadly. "I was too old and feeble,
mayhap. But the others were swept off as if they had been chaff. Dear
mistress, what is there for us to do? If my lord and master tries to
escape by way of the open moor----"

"Your master is sorely wounded," Sybil interrupted. "It is only that
great heart of his that keeps him going in the face of danger. Did he go
far, he would die. And Cromwell may come out of that room at any moment.
Get your master away, Andrew, get him safe to the hiding-place, whilst I
go and parley to gain time."

Sir Walter came very slowly up the stairs. His face was set and stern as
he listened, yet his eyes were full of passionate affection as he talked
to his wife. He would have said something, but she waved the speech
aside.

"It is to be one or the other of you," she said. "I will go and reason
with him. If he refuses to listen, which I expect, there must be no
hesitation. There is the bare chance that you may get away yet. And if
so, send me your gauntlet; let it be the message on the floor. If that
comes down, I shall know that you are free. Praise be to God that there
are none of our people in the house! It may be 'Good-bye'----"

The door of the parlor creaked, and Andrew drew his master back. He
snatched the hand of his wife and kissed it passionately. The next
moment he had vanished in the darkness of the corridor. With a firm
step, and a heart beating none the faster, Sybil slowly descended the
stairs. She had her part to play now, and she was not going to flinch.
There was desperate danger here, but at any cost the precious life of
Sir Walter Harcombe must be saved. It mattered little how Cromwell had
come to know that Harcombe found his way back home, seeing that his
danger was going to be as great, if not greater, than that of the master
of Harcombe Place. If Walter succeeded in getting away, well and good;
if not, the price would be a heavy one.

Quite ready for all that was going to happen, Sybil pushed her way into
the parlor. The Protector stood there, moodily poking the wood fire with
the toe of his riding-boot. The expression of his strong, heavy face did
not change in the least.

"I sent for you," he said. "Why did you not come before?"

There was a harsh command in the question that brought the blood flaming
to Sybil's face. Had this rude boor once been the close companion of
gentlemen? she wondered. She had heard tales of Cromwell's early youth
that did not tally with his middle age.

"I was abroad," she said. "I did not know of the honor before me, or I
had been back sooner. Your courtesy and your kindness, sir, touch me to
the heart. It is a sweet and blessed privilege that Harcombe Place
boasts to-night."

The expression on Cromwell's face seemed unchanged. Sybil caught herself
wondering whether or not there was a heart somewhere under that rugged
breast.

"Shut the door," he said, unmoved. "Shut the door and let us talk."

"Talk by all means, because we must; but as to the door, shut it
yourself, if such is your good pleasure. Have you consorted with
kitchen-wenches so long that you have caught the manner of their lives?
But I am wasting my time. What do you do here?"

"I came here on an errand that you can guess," Cromwell said. "I came
here to seek your husband. How he escaped my men to-night passes my
understanding. He was not with the dead nor with the wounded; he was
nowhere to be found. That he had been sorely mauled, I had from one who
was part of the undoing; and yet he has escaped me. The wounded fox
creeps back to his earth. That is why I am here to-night."

"You expected to find my husband waiting for you with open arms?"

"Well, perhaps not that, mistress," Cromwell said, with a near approach
to a smile. "If he is not here; then he is not far away. If he comes not
here, then he goes to his friend Lord Mornington, at Carew Grange, where
there are those who are ready to say 'Nay' to that."

"And if my husband does fall into your hands?"

"Then he will be shot," Cromwell said hoarsely. "An example to traitors
be it understood. We have been too easy with them in the past."

"Oh, yes, kindness of heart is ever your stumbling-block," Sybil said
bitterly. "Man, have you no mercy, no feeling, no bowels of compassion?
Here in this very house your own grandfather, then old Sir Harry
Cromwell, of Hinchinbrook----"

"My ancestors are no part of me," Cromwell interrupted. "It was men like
my grandfather, pandering to a profligate and wasteful----What was
that?"




CHAPTER II.


It was only a grating sound, like the turning of a key in a lock, but it
brought the gleam of suspicion in the eyes of Cromwell. Sybil smiled as
she saw his hand go to his side. It was good to know that this hard man
had nerves and feelings.

"There is no cause for alarm," she said. "I am merely a woman, whose
servants have been sent away, and your menials are close at hand. Do not
be afraid."

"It sounded like something down below," Cromwell said. "My men are
searching there in the vaults and passages in the basement of this old
place. Mayhap they are on the right scent; but certain places here have
been cunningly contrived. There is the iron cell, for instance."

"So you know of the iron cell!" Sybil cried. "But I had forgotten that
you once enjoyed the full hospitality of this house. In return for all
that kindness----"

"It is not time to speak of kindness," Cromwell burst out harshly. "When
a kingdom as fair as ours is at stake, why----But how should a woman
know anything of such matters? I heard a sound like the turning of a key
in a lock--it seemed to come from below. I have a curiosity to see that
iron cellar of yours."

Sybil smiled to herself. Her face was deadly white now, her eyes gleamed
with some strong tenacity of purpose. There was a suggestion of the
martyr about her.

"And also the contents of the chamber," she said sneeringly. "You hope
to find my husband in hiding there. Well, I have nothing to conceal.
Follow me, and you shall know all there is to know, about the iron cell.
This way, sir."

Cromwell followed, his iron heels clanging on the pavement. Presently
Sybil led the way down a long flight of stone step's which gave upon a
slimy passage, the walls of which were green with some kind of growth;
great drops fell from the arched roof. They were below the level of the
moat now, in the oldest part of the house. In times gone by, prisoners
had been kept in those damp vaults, unseen and unrecorded crimes had
taken place there; for there had been Harcombes in those days whose
names were as a white terror to the whole countryside. There were tales
and legends still half-believed; but they were being forgotten now,
seeing that the head of the family was a popular hero with his people.

Most of the cell doors stood open, but one was tightly closed. The door
was of iron, with great brass studs on it, the handle was stiff, and
taxed Sybil's strength to the uttermost. Cromwell stood by, impotent to
help, for the secret of the door lay in the turning of the handle. The
big, iron sheet rolled sullenly back at last, disclosing a black
interior. A clanking footstep came down the corridor and a sour-looking
trooper, with a lantern in his hand, strode along.

"Give me your light, fellow," Cromwell said. "There are plenty of
lanterns among you, and we need one. Have you found anything yet?"

"It has not yet been vouchsafed to us, my lord," the man said with a
snivelling drawl; "but our feet are on the right path, per adventure."

Sybil smiled with some contempt. She took the lantern from the hand of
the trooper and, passing up the steps that led to the door, held it high
over her head. There was no moisture in the iron cell save for the beads
on the walls, and the place was empty.

"There is nothing here," Sybil said. "Had I told you my husband was not
concealed here, you would not have believed me. So your memory is a good
one, and you have not forgotten some of the secrets of the house. Do you
know all about this iron cell?"

The question was put with such significance that Cromwell stared at the
speaker. He replied sullenly that he supposed that nothing had been
concealed from him.

"Then you are quite wrong," the girl replied. "This cell is sheathed
with iron. Do you know why it is so sheathed, whilst the other cells are
of plain granite? Do you know why you have to come up a flight of stairs
to reach it from the corridor?"

Sybil pointed to the short flight of steps that she and her companion
had ascended to reach the iron room. Cromwell nodded, with the air of a
man who takes little interest in the proceedings. All he knew or cared
to know was that an enemy was concealed here, and that enemy must be
driven from his hiding-place and destroyed. The man was doubtless down
here in this curious underground world, and the troopers would move him
presently.

"I see you don't know everything," Sybil said, "so I will proceed to
explain. First, I will shut the door, so that we need not be
disturbed.... There! Now you are a prisoner; and unless I chose to show
you the way, you could never open that iron sheet. I could keep you a
prisoner here as long as I liked. Do you understand that?"

"I understand that I have company; and that so long as one is a prisoner
he is not without a companion. Come, mistress, you are concealing
something from me."

"Not for long," Sybil said in a hard even voice; "I am going to explain
everything. Did you ever hear how the old house was raided by the
Hoptons, and their terrible fate?"

Cromwell waved his hand impatiently. He had heard some century-old feud
between the Hoptons and Harcombes, and how the castle of the former had
been destroyed.

"Ah! it is by no means a dull story," Sybil said in the same hard, even
tones. "They came here treacherously in the dead of the night--one
hundred and nine of them--and our people fled to the vaults, where they
were followed. The foe fell into the trap. And what happened? Next day,
one hundred and nine corpses, fair and dark, rich and poor, lay out in
the courtyard, and our people buried them. The Hoptons were wiped clean
out, and we pulled their castle down stone by stone. Have you heard of
that?"

"In my youth," Cromwell said, patiently. "The silly lie of some
kitchen-wench."

"It was not a lie; it is absolutely true. And the only loss our people
sustained was a young girl who had a hopeless passion for the then
ruling head of the family. Somebody had to perish to save the house, and
that girl chose to do so. The fact that she was dying at the time made
the story the more touching--to people possessed of feeling at all."

"Meaning that I have none," Cromwell said sourly. "What really happened,
mistress?"

"Oh, I see that it is starting to interest you at last! The moat was
tapped. The moat can be tapped from here, and these vaults and passages
flooded with a great rush of water. In time the water, would rise until
this iron room were filled to the roof; there would be no end to it,
because the moat is fed from the lake on the high ground over against
Basing village. It was the rush of those cruel waters that wiped the
Hoptons out of existence."

"But the girl need not have died," Cromwell protested. "If she had cut
off the flow of water----"

"She could not," Sybil went on. "The pressure from without is too great.
Our machinery is too imperfect for that. The raised gates have to be
forced down from without. They refused to work on that fatal night
because the lake was in flood--a fact that had been overlooked. And so
the heroine died, and the Hoptons raided the land no longer. It was a
brave thing to do."

"It was a brave thing to do," Cromwell echoed. "For a woman it was a
noble act."

"It was. We all think so. She did it to save the house she loved, as I
might do it to save the man I loved. What one woman can do, another need
not shrink from."

Cromwell started. Moody and preoccupied as he was, the full significance
of the speech was not lost on him. The sombre eyes sought Sybil's face
keenly. He saw a deadly white face, with a pair of eyes gleaming
dangerously; he saw resolution--almost inspiration--and the fact was
borne in upon him that his life was in peril.

"Do you mean to threaten me?" he asked.

"No," Sybil said gently. "I mean nothing of the kind. My husband's life
is in danger; he is, as you say, sorely wanted. And he is not very far
off. Your ferret instinct has not played you false. If my man is taken
now, the King's cause would suffer. The King has need of him. His life
or death may change the whole fortunes of the day."

"We will not argue that," Cromwell muttered. "Those despatches----"

"And your private papers. It is your pleasure to call Walter Harcombe a
spy and a traitor, and proclaim the fact that you are going to shoot
him. Now, if you will write a message to your men outside calling them
off, and send these roundheaded, prowling rats of yours from the house,
I may----"

"These be brave words," Cromwell cried. "Woman, are you talking to me?"

"Aye, I am," Sybil said between her teeth. "And I am going to play the
woman to-night. My husband must escape, or I pay the penalty with my
life. I did not bring you here to threaten or to abuse. If my husband
does not go free under an order from your own hand, you and I die. I
will play Jeanne d'Arc to you; I will rid England of a cold-hearted
tyrant, who plays the tune of his ambition to the melody of religion.
Aye, I am not boasting."

There was danger here, and the great Parliamentarian gripped it. They
were locked in there together, and the secret of the way out of it was
known only to a woman who had lost her senses for love of her husband.
Cromwell crossed the cell and gripped Sybil by the wrist.

"There is not likely to be any danger now," he said.

"You think not?" The girl made an effort to free herself. "You may go if
you can find the way out. Presently, when the moat is at flood, a great
log of wood will glide down past the spies as if the stream had carried
it down, and on that log will be my husband. He will get away right
under the eyes of your vigilants. If they shoot him down, should he
attempt to lower the flood-gates, then your fate and mine is sealed. And
I shall be a saint in the memory of my husband. I shall go down to
posterity as the Woman who rid free England of a tyrant. Let me go!"

Sybil wrenched herself away suddenly and jumped heavily on a square
plate let in the floor. She laughed as a hollow clang rang out, and
almost instantly the silence of the place was broken with a shock and a
roar, as if the whole house were in the throes of an earthquake. Every
stone and every stick of timber creaked and groaned; the roaring came
nearer and nearer, till the rush of it drowned every other sound. Sybil
had been as good as her word; she had tapped the lake, and the flood was
streaming through the house already.

Then she crossed over and pulled back the iron door. Already the passage
outside at the foot of the flight of stairs, was a white, foaming
torrent. As Cromwell looked, he could see that the seething stream was
rising higher and higher.

"Can you swim?" Sybil asked, pointing to the shimmering force below.
"You cannot? Well, it would make no difference. Nobody could live in
that dreadful whirlpool--the fall is too great. It joins the river in
the water-meadows below the house. See how it is creeping up--up, still
higher, till it reaches the floor where we are standing. Oliver
Cromwell, if there is any sincerity in your prayers, you will need them
now. Look!"

The girl pointed with a steady hand to an object that came turning and
twisting with the flood. It was the dead body of a man in full
uniform--the trooper who had provided Cromwell with the lantern.

"Aye, well, you have reason to be proud of your work," Cromwell said
bitterly.

"I am not proud of the thing which is no better than murder. Yet there
is no shame to me when I think of the murder that you have planned.
Come, if I can yet save your life, will you take terms from me?"

It was a long time before Cromwell replied. He did not do so until the
shining flood had risen above his ankles.

"You are the stuff that heroes are born from," he said with a certain
grudging admiration. "It is because England has need of me, because God
has called me to right a great wrong, that I yield. I dare not go and
stand in the presence of my Maker feeling that I have betrayed His trust
to save my stiff-necked pride. Your husband is free of me if you can
stay the crime that you have done."

"I may fail," she said; "but presently the flood will bring me a
message. If my husband's buff gauntlet comes down, I shall know that he
has got beyond the confines of the house. That was the signal that he
promised me. If he has been taken, then you and I die together. Have you
ink and powder and a pen in your doublet?"

Cromwell signified that he had writing materials about him. He watched
the waters rising almost up to his knees, the fear of death danced
before his eyes. Presently along the shining bosom of the floor came the
signal in the form of a buff gauntlet. Sybil snatched it up and took a
tiny scrap of paper from the bosom of her dress.

"Now write a message on that, and write quickly," she said. "There is no
time to be lost. The glove will float down the stream and out on the
margin of the water-meadows. Old Andrew will be waiting for it; for
Andrew and myself have tried the scheme more than once before, little
dreaming how soon we should make use of it.... Is that writing done?....
There!"

Sybil flung the glove afar out into the stream, and it slid away beyond
the circle of light made by the lantern. Still the water crept up, until
it reached the deep chest of the soldier, and nearly to the shoulders of
the woman. The flood was very cold; but Sybil made no sign, for within
she glowed with the consciousness of a great victory.

The water was not moving how, it came no higher. Had the signal reached
its destination? Cromwell asked himself. It was characteristic of the
man that he displayed no kind of feeling, and yet his face lightened
invisibly as he saw the horn buttons of his coat emerging one by one as
the stream began to subside. There was a steady, sucking noise in the
corridor, the steps crept in sight one by one, until the floor appeared
once more.

"Now, sir," Sybil said. She spoke bravely enough, though a deadly fear
was gripping her. "Now we can get to the level of the house again, where
no damage will have been done, and you and I can exchange pretty
courtesies by the side of a roaring fire. I take it that you feel a
certain inconvenience from your adventure?"

"Some dry clothing?" Cromwell said.

"It shall be forthcoming. I pray of you to go upstairs and take the
first room to the right. I go to change my own attire. Then perhaps you
will permit me to extend my hospitality, seeing that the house is not
strange to you. As a mark of my distinguished favor, I have shown you a
secret of the house which is not revealed to every stranger. Ah! I hear
Andrew."

Old Andrew had come back to the house, his withered face broken with
many emotions. When the great Parliamentarian came down to the parlor,
clad in dry clothing, he found Sybil awaiting him. Her face was flushed
now and her eyes unduly bright. In a deep chair on the other side of the
fire sat Sir Walter Harcombe. One of Sybil's hands was on his shoulder,
the other he held proudly and lovingly.

"Sdeath, sir!" he said; "but these be brave times. And so you have
measured your wit against that of a woman, and gotten a fall, as many a
better man has done before you. Presently, when you are gone, I shall
try and tell this dear wife of mine what I think of her. Come, sir, you
will drink a cup of the best to the sweetest heroine who ever risked her
life for the sake of the unworthy fellow who was privileged to call
himself a husband. As a courtesy, as a medicine, as a toast--call it
what you will. And shake hands upon it."

"As a toast, then," Cromwell said in a deep voice, as he raised the
needed cordial to his lips. "Madam, my profoundest respect to you. But
the draught is a bitter one, and my stomach likes it not at all. So if
you will suffer me to depart----"

He raised his fingers to his cap and saluted gravely. Then he turned on
his heels and quitted the room, clanging the door sullenly behind.



THE END



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