"You will know all about it in time, lad," his father said. "You are too young to bother your head with politics, and you would lose patience in a very short time. I do myself, occasionally. Many who are the foremost in talk, when there is no prospect of doing anything, draw back when the time approaches for action, and it is sickening to listen to the timorous objections and paltry arguments that are brought forward. Here am I, a man of sixty, ready to risk life and fortune in the good cause, and there are many, not half my age, who speak with as much caution as if they were graybeards. Still, lad, I have no doubt that the matter will straighten itself out, and come right in the end. It is always the most trying time, for timorous hearts, before the first shot of a battle is fired. Once the engagement commences, there is no time for fear. The battle has to be fought out, and the best way to safety is to win a victory. I have not the least doubt that, as soon as it is known that the king has landed, there will be no more shilly-shallying or hesitation. Every loyal man will mount his horse, and call out his tenants, and, in a few days, England will be in a blaze from end to end."
Charlie troubled himself but little with what was going on. His father had promised him that, when the time did come, he should ride by his side, and with that promise he was content to wait, knowing that, at present, his strength would be of but little avail, and that every week added somewhat to his weight and sinew.
One day he was in the garden with Ciceley. The weather was hot, and the girl was sitting, in a swing, under a shady tree, occasionally starting herself by a push with her foot on the ground, and then swaying gently backward and forward, until the swing was again at rest. Charlie was seated on the ground, near her, pulling the ears of his favourite dog, and occasionally talking to her, when a servant came out, with a message that his father wanted to speak to him.
"I expect I shall be back in a few minutes, Ciceley, so don't you wander away till I come. It is too hot today to be hunting for you, all over the garden, as I did when you hid yourself last week."
It was indeed but a short time until he returned.
"My father only wanted to tell me that he is just starting for Bristowe's, and, as it is over twenty miles away, he may not return until tomorrow."
"I don't like that man's face who brought the message to you, Charlie."
"Don't you?" the boy said carelessly. "I have not noticed him much. He has not been many months with us.
"What are you thinking of?" he asked, a minute later, seeing that his cousin looked troubled.
"I don't know that I ought to tell you, Charlie. You know my father does not think the same way as yours about things."
"I should rather think he doesn't," Charlie laughed. "There is no secret about that, Ciceley; but they don't quarrel over it. Last time your father and mother came over here, I dined with them for the first time, and I noticed there was not a single word said about politics. They chatted over the crops, and the chances of a war in Europe, and of the quarrel between Holstein and Denmark, and whether the young king of Sweden would aid the duke, who seems to be threatened by Saxony as well as by Denmark. I did not know anything about it, and thought it was rather stupid; but my father and yours both seemed of one mind, and were as good friends as if they were in equal agreement on all other points. But what has that to do with Nicholson, for that is the man's name who came out just now?"
"It does not seem to have much to do with it," she said doubtfully, "and yet, perhaps it does. You know my mother is not quite of the same opinion as my father, although she never says so to him; but, when we are alone together, sometimes she shakes her head and says she fears that trouble is coming, and it makes her very unhappy. One day I was in the garden, and they were talking loudly in the dining room–at least, he was talking loudly. Well, he said–But I don't know whether I ought to tell you, Charlie."
"Certainly you ought not, Ciceley. If you heard what you were not meant to hear, you ought never to say a word about it to anyone."
"But it concerns you and Sir Marmaduke."
"I cannot help that," he said stoutly. "People often say things of each other, in private, especially if they are out of temper, that they don't quite mean, and it would make terrible mischief if such things were repeated. Whatever your father said, I do not want to hear it, and it would be very wrong of you to repeat it."
"I am not going to repeat it, Charlie. I only want to say that I do not think my father and yours are very friendly together, which is natural, when my father is all for King William, and your father for King James. He makes no secret of that, you know."
"That is right enough, Ciceley, but still, I don't understand in the least what it has to do with the servant."
"It has to do with it," she said pettishly, starting the swing afresh, and then relapsing into silence until it again came to a standstill.
"I think you ought to know," she said suddenly. "You see, Charlie, Sir Marmaduke is very kind to me, and I love him dearly, and so I do you, and I think you ought to know, although it may be nothing at all."
"Well, fire away then, Ciceley. There is one thing you may be quite sure of, whatever you tell me, it is like telling a brother, and I shall never repeat it to anyone."
"Well, it is this. That man comes over sometimes to see my father. I have seen him pass my window, three or four times, and go in by the garden door into father's study. I did not know who he was, but it did seem funny his entering by that door, as if he did not want to be seen by anyone in the house. I did not think anything more about it, till I saw him just now, then I knew him directly. If I had seen him before, I should have told you at once, but I don't think I have."
"I daresay not, Ciceley. He does not wait at table, but is under the steward, and helps clean the silver. He waits when we have several friends to dinner. At other times he does not often come into the room.
"What you tell me is certainly curious. What can he have to say to your father?"
"I don't know, Charlie. I don't know anything about it. I do think you ought to know."
"Yes, I think it is a good thing that I should know," Charlie agreed thoughtfully. "I daresay it is all right, but, at any rate, I am glad you told me."
"You won't tell your father?" she asked eagerly. "Because, if you were to speak of it–"
"I shall not tell him. You need not be afraid that what you have told me will come out. It is curious, and that is all, and I will look after the fellow a bit. Don't think anything more about it. It is just the sort of thing it is well to know, but I expect there is no harm in it, one way or the other. Of course, he must have known your father before he came to us, and may have business of some sort with him. He may have a brother, or some other relation, who wants to take one of your father's farms. Indeed, there are a hundred things he might want to see him about. But still, I am glad you have told me."
In his own mind, Charlie thought much more seriously of it than he pretended. He knew that, at present, his father was engaged heart and soul in a projected Jacobite rising. He knew that John Dormay was a bitter Whig. He believed that he had a grudge against his father, and the general opinion of him was that he was wholly unscrupulous.
That he should, then, be in secret communication with a servant at Lynnwood, struck him as a very serious matter, indeed. Charlie was not yet sixteen, but his close companionship with his father had rendered him older than most lads of his age. He was as warm a Jacobite as his father, but the manner in which William, with his Dutch troops, had crushed the great Jacobite rebellion in Ireland, seemed to him a lesson that the prospects of success, in England, were much less certain than his father believed them to be.
John Dormay, as an adherent of William, would be interested in thwarting the proposed movement, with the satisfaction of, at the same time, bringing Sir Marmaduke into disgrace. Charlie could hardly believe that his cousin would be guilty of setting a spy to watch his father, but it was certainly possible, and as he thought the matter over, as he rode back after escorting Ciceley to her home, he resolved to keep a sharp watch over the doings of this man Nicholson.
"It would never do to tell my father what Ciceley said. He would bundle the fellow out, neck and crop, and perhaps break some of his bones, and then it would be traced to her. She has not a happy home, as it is, and it would be far worse if her father knew that it was she who had put us on our guard. I must find out something myself, and then we can turn him out, without there being the least suspicion that Ciceley is mixed up in it."
The next evening several Jacobite gentlemen rode in, and, as usual, had a long talk with Sir Marmaduke after supper.
"If this fellow is a spy," Charlie said to himself, "he will be wanting to hear what is said, and to do so he must either hide himself in the room, or listen at the door, or at one of the windows. It is not likely that he will get into the room, for to do that he must have hidden himself before supper began. I don't think he would dare to listen at the door, for anyone passing through the hall would catch him at it. It must be at one of the windows."
The room was at an angle of the house. Three windows looked out on to the lawn in front; that at the side into a large shrubbery, where the bushes grew up close to it; and Charlie decided that here, if anywhere, the man would take up his post. As soon, then, as he knew that the servants were clearing away the supper, he took a heavy cudgel and went out. He walked straight away from the house, and then, when he knew that his figure could no longer be seen in the twilight, he made a circuit, and, entering the shrubbery, crept along close to the wall of the Muse, until within two or three yards of the window. Having made sure that at present, at any rate, no one was near, he moved out a step or two to look at the window.
His suspicions were at once confirmed. The inside curtains were drawn, but the casement was open two or three inches. Charlie again took up his post, behind a bush, and waited.
In five minutes he heard a twig snap, and then a figure came along, noiselessly, and placed itself at the window. Charlie gave him but a moment to listen, then he sprang forward, and, with his whole strength, brought his cudgel down upon the man's head. He fell like a stone. Charlie threw open the window, and, as he did so, the curtain was torn back by his father, the sound of the blow and the fall having reached the ears of those within.
Sir Marmaduke had drawn his sword, and was about to leap through the window, when Charlie exclaimed:
"It is I, father. I have caught a fellow listening at the window, and have just knocked him down."
"Well done, my boy!
"Bring lights, please, gentlemen. Let us see what villain we have got here."
But, as he spoke, Charlie's head suddenly disappeared, and a sharp exclamation broke from him, as he felt his ankles grasped and his feet pulled from under him. He came down with such a crash that, for a moment, he was unable to rise. He heard a rustling in the bushes, and then his father leapt down beside him.
"Where are you, my boy? Has the scoundrel hurt you?"
"He has given me a shake," Charlie said as he sat up; "and, what is worse, I am afraid he has got away."
"Follow me, gentlemen, and scatter through the gardens," Sir Marmaduke roared. "The villain has escaped!"
For a few minutes, there was a hot pursuit through the shrubbery and gardens, but nothing was discovered. Charlie had been so shaken that he was unable to join the pursuit, but, having got on to his feet, remained leaning against the wall until his father came back.
"He has got away, Charlie. Have you any idea who he was?"
"It was Nicholson, father. At least, I am almost certain that it was him. It was too dark to see his face. I could see the outline of his head against the window, and he had on a cap with a cock's feather which I had noticed the man wore."
"But how came you here, Charlie?"
"I will tell you that afterwards, father. Don't ask me now."
For, at this moment, some of the others were coming up. Several of them had torches, and, as they approached, Sir Marmaduke saw something lying on the ground under the window. He picked it up.
"Here is the fellow's cap," he said. "You must have hit him a shrewd blow, Charlie, for here is a clean cut through the cloth, and a patch of fresh blood on the white lining. How did he get you down, lad?"
"He fell so suddenly, when I hit him, that I thought I had either killed or stunned him; but of course I had not, for it was but a moment after, when I was speaking to you, that I felt my ankles seized, and I went down with a crash. I heard him make off through the bushes; but I was, for the moment, almost dazed, and could do nothing to stop him."
"Was the window open when he came?"
"Yes, sir, two or three inches."
"Then it was evidently a planned thing.
"Well, gentlemen, we may as well go indoors. The fellow is well out of our reach now, and we may be pretty sure he will never again show his face here. Fortunately he heard nothing, for the serving men had but just left the room, and we had not yet begun to talk."
"That is true enough, Sir Marmaduke," one of the others said. "The question is: how long has this been going on?"
Sir Marmaduke looked at Charlie.
"I know nothing about it, sir. Till now, I have not had the slightest suspicion of this man. It occurred to me, this afternoon, that it might be possible for anyone to hear what was said inside the room, by listening at the windows; and that this shrubbery would form a very good shelter for an eavesdropper. So I thought, this evening I would take up my place here, to assure myself that there was no traitor in the household. I had been here but five minutes when the fellow stole quietly up, and placed his ear at the opening of the casement, and you may be sure that I gave him no time to listen to what was being said."
"Well, we had better go in," Sir Marmaduke said. "There is no fear of our being overheard this evening.
"Charlie, do you take old Banks aside, and tell him what has happened, and then go with him to the room where that fellow slept, and make a thorough search of any clothes he may have left behind, and of the room itself. Should you find any papers or documents, you will, of course, bring them down to me."
But the closest search, by Charlie and the old butler, produced no results. Not a scrap of paper of any kind was found, and Banks said that he knew the man could neither read nor write.
The party below soon broke up, considerable uneasiness being felt, by all, at the incident of the evening. When the last of them had left, Charlie was sent for.
"Now, then, Charlie, let me hear how all this came about. I know that all you said about what took place at the window is perfectly true; but, even had you not said so, I should have felt there was something else. What was it brought you to that window? Your story was straight-forward enough, but it was certainly singular your happening to be there, and I fancy some of our friends thought that you had gone round to listen, yourself. One hinted as much; but I said that was absurd, for you were completely in my confidence, and that, whatever peril and danger there might be in the enterprise, you would share them with me."
"It is not pleasant that they should have thought so, father, but that is better than that the truth should be known. This is how it happened;" and he repeated what Ciceley had told him in the garden.
"So the worthy Master John Dormay has set a spy upon me," Sir Marmaduke said, bitterly. "I knew the man was a knave–that is public property–but I did not think that he was capable of this. Well, I am glad that, at any rate, no suspicion can fall upon Ciceley in the matter; but it is serious, lad, very serious. We do not know how long this fellow has been prying and listening, or how much he may have learnt. I don't think it can be much. We talked it over, and my friends all agreed with me that they do not remember those curtains having been drawn before. To begin with, the evenings are shortening fast, and, at our meeting last week, we finished our supper by daylight; and, had the curtains been drawn, it would have been noticed, for we had need of light before we finished. Two of the gentlemen, who were sitting facing the window, declared that they remembered distinctly that it was open. Mr. Jervoise says that he thought to himself that, if it was his place, he would have the trees cut away there, for they shut out the light.
"Therefore, although it is uncomfortable to think that there has been a spy in the house, for some months, we have every reason to hope that our councils have not been overheard. Were it otherwise, I should lose no time in making for the coast, and taking ship to France, to wait quietly there until the king comes over."
"You have no documents, father, that the man could have found?"
"None, Charlie. We have doubtless made lists of those who could be relied upon, and of the number of men they could bring with them, but these have always been burned before we separated. Such letters as I have had from France, I have always destroyed as soon as I have read them. Perilous stuff of that sort should never be left about. No; they may ransack the place from top to bottom, and nothing will be found that could not be read aloud, without harm, in the marketplace of Lancaster.
"So now, to bed, Charlie. It is long past your usual hour."