SHORT STORIES

NANCY WAYNFLEETE

HALLIWELL SUTCLIFFE November 1 1909
SHORT STORIES

NANCY WAYNFLEETE

HALLIWELL SUTCLIFFE November 1 1909

NANCY WAYNFLEETE

SHORT STORIES

HALLIWELL SUTCLIFFE

“Prince Charlie, as it chanced, ivas sheltering in a Skye cave while Sir John sat comfortably at his owti board—was sheltering in company with Flora MacDonald. Miss MacDonald a n d the Prince were wet to the skin, were faint with hunger ; they heard men calling one to another in the narrow seas that swept their island, asking if aught had been heard of the accursed Stuart."

SIR JOHN WAYNFLEETE had undoubtedly been deep in the counsels of those gentry of Lancashire who promised support to Prince Charles Edward. When the Prince marched south in earnest, Sir John had been also among those who had not kept their word.

At the pinch of need he had failed. Looking back now to the day when a messenger had ridden up to Waynfleete—horse and man half dizzy with fatigue—to tell him the Prince was marching on Preston, and to bid him keep a promise made—looking back to that day, Sir John could scarcely understand his failure. He had no fear of battle, no fear of the executioner’s axe if he lived to see the rising crushed and himself a prisoner; he had zeal for the cause, a passionate love of Church and Stuart. What had been wanting, when he stayed at home that day, and did not ride to join the Highland army as it entered Preston?

In his heart he knew the reason, but would not admit it. Nancy was the cause—Nancy, who at eighteen was like a portrait of the mother who had died in giving birth to her—Nancy,

whom he had watched, and loved, and tended with extravagant devotion.

This evening as he sat after supper and watched the crimson sundown through the window of the banquethall, he read his motive with unerring eyes. There was wine at his elbow, a half-finished glass beside him, but he did not touch it. He was following the wanderings of his Prince up in Scotland yonder, so far as he had gleaned news from the horsemen who sought shelter for a night, or sometimes longer, at Waynfleete. He was aching to share the hardship and the peril.

“Why, why?” he asked himself, with sudden impatience. “Fm fiveand-sixty, and hale at that. And here I’m rotting at home, a broken man.”

The answer came to him in one of those flashes of intuition which reach tired men at times. He had loved Nancy better than his Prince. He had not dared to leave her. The times were uncertain. At any moment Lancashire might be littered from hill to hill with civil war; and, if he joined the Highland army, Nancy would be left unguarded. That was the motive which had held him back. He had pictured with an apprehension

that was at once a father’s and a lover’s, the perils which this maid of his must undergo if the usurper's soldiery were let loose in Lancashire.

She was betrothed to Nicholas Thorne, to be sure; but Nicholas had been up and down the country recruiting laggards, and putting his neck in danger every day. Then he had ridden south with the Prince, and Heaven only knew what had chanced to him since then.

Sir John’s face commanded pity, had t^iere been an onlooker to see him as lie sat at table, with the red o’ gloaming full on him. He was not only, for his daughter's sake, an idler, but he knew that Nancy herself despised him. She had tried to conceal her contempt. She had greeted him, she thought, as of old, whenever they were brought together by the day’s routine—meals, or rides about the countryside, or walks in the shady rose-garden that now was desolate and wintry. But there had been a coldness between them, and Sir John had been quick to know it. His own maid —Nancy, for whom he had given up his love of loyalty, his love of battle —Nancy despised him.

Prince Charlie, as it chanced, was sheltering in a Skye cave while Sir John sat comfortably at his own board —was sheltering in company with Flora MacDonald. Miss MacDonald and the Prince were wet to the skin, were faint with hunger; they heard men calling one to another, in the narrow seas that swept their island, asking if aught had been heard of the accursed Stuart. Yet Flora and the Prince were in glad case, could they have contrasted their own misery with that of Sir John to-night.

Sir John turned presently to his glass and drained it, and filled himself another measure. “Nancy,” he muttered, a broken man, “Nancy will never know that I did it for her sake.”

Nancy was walking up and down the terrace meanwhile, with quick, impatient strides. This contempt for her father, months old by now, had been eating at her heart.

“If I had been the man o’ the house,” she thought; “if I had been the man to ride south, and then ride north again, and share the glory of it all, retreat or victory. But I was born a girl, God help me!”

As she paced the terrace the sound of galloping hoofs came up the gentle rise that led to Waynfleete. She shaded her eyes against the crimson glare of the gloaming, and saw Nicholas Thorne ride up.

“Nick—Nick, what are you doing so near to a suspected house?” she cried, when he had tethered his horse and stood beside her.

He stooped and kissed her, but she knew, as women do, that he was thinking of matters that went deeper than bethrothal kisses.

“What is it, Nick? What is it?” she asked.

“Your father, Nancy.”

“Yes?” Her voice was cold. “My father—he is drinking his after-supper wine, Nick—no more, no less. He has little occupation these days save to eat and drink.”

“You misjudge him, Nancy.”

She turned on him with a restrained anger that was not in keeping with her youth. “My father may be this or that, Nick—but it is my place, not yours, to make excuses for him.” “Excuses?” His voice was strained and harsh. He had ridden far, and had farther still to ride, and could not stay to measure out his words. “There is no need of excuse for Sir John. We all know why he staved at home, and we all blame—you, Nancy, just you.” Nancy felt as if he had struck her. She was so quiet; and yet there.was a flush of shame across her face—shame that such an accusation could be brought against her.

“I urged him to ride south,” she faltered.

“Oh, yes; but you forgot his love for you.”

Again she found her courage. “His love for me? His love—when he had sworn to answer the Prince’s call— Nick, you’re a fool. Plant flowers on a grave if you will, but never say that dead courage is ^liyç,”

Nick was impatient. It was well enough to love Nancy, and to have no doubt of his love, but he had business over the Border that would not be denied.

“D’ye know what your father is, Nancy—how big a man he is?”

“I know how—‘how small a man— nay, not that! I’m bewildered. Nick, by the shame of it all. I did not mean to speak against—against my father.” “ ‘Women’s eyes see just as far as the paddock. Men look up to the hills.’ You know the proverb, Nancy ? Did not Sir John prove his courage once for all in the Fifteen Rising? That was thirty years ago, and men still talk of his gallantry. He has done nothing since to cloud his good repute.”

She glanced at him in sheer perplexity. “Nothing to cloud it? Is a

broken promise nothing? Is idleness at home nothing, while leal men are facing hardship?”

“Hush, child !” he said peremptorily. “You will not understand. He is old enough to claim excuse on that ground only, when so many younger men have failed us ; but he stands on surer ground than that. He stayed, Nancy—I had it from his own lips— to protect your honor here at Waynfleete, since I could not.”

Nancy’s eyes grew bright, she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. The misery of the past months was forgotten, and once again she saw her father in the brave, glamored light that had lain about him since her childhood’s days.

“Nick, why did he not tell me this?” she asked. All her pride was gone, the coldness that had chilled her lover ;

she crept close into his arms, as a betrothed maiden should, and reached out for his strength. “You'll never know the misery of these last months. He was so great, so full of courage, until—until—and then again he was my father, Nick, and blame, though I could not help it, seemed something near to sacrilege.”

“Oh, child, I know. But you should have trusted him. Such men do not change, Nancy. They are perplexed sometimes, not knowing which way the ibad of honor takes, but they choose what seems to them the right.” Nancy, for the first time, reached up to Nicholas and kissed him of her own free will. She saw the meanness of her doubts ; and in sharp contrast she saw the unwavering, steady faith of this lover of hers, who came to her weary, soiled with travel, and sick with grief for the retreat at Derby—this lover who could still be eager for the honor of Waynfleete.

“The Prince was speaking of him soon after Derby. He wished there were more men like Sir John.”

“He spoke kindly of my father? Tell me again, Nick, that he spoke kindly.”

“He spoke with afifection, Nancy. He understands. I saw to that.” Nancy laughed, the temperate laugh of one who has been on the rack and is released. “Let us go in and tell him,” she said. “Tether your horse, Nick— oh, be quick ! Let us go and tell him that the Prince”—again she laughed —“that the Prince and you and I, all understand.”

They went in together, and moved softly to the doorway of the dininghall. Sir John did not hear them. He sat with his arms on the table, his head between his hands, and he was picturing the long march south, the long retreat, in which he had not shared.

“Sir John,” said Nick, coming quietly to his side. “Sir John, I’ve little time to waste, and I have news.”

Sir John came out of dreamland.

“You, Nick r” he said, quick to reae

member hospitality. “Sit down, lad, and share a bottle with me.”

“I will, sir, for I have ridden far. It was seven this morning since I last tasted food or drink.”

“A plain hint, Nick, a plain hint! Where’s Nancy ? You must have food, lad, to be sure—where’s Nancy?”

She crossed the dining-hall, and Sir John looked at his daughter in the lamplight. The scorn had gone from her face, and he saw only the tenderest pity there. He forgot his guest. He rose from his place, as a lover might, and took her hands in his, and kissed them in his reverent way.

“Why, girl, you—you understand these last few months—at last,” he said.

“Yes, father,” she murmured with the prettiest submissiveness and shame. “Yes, I understand these last few months. I was not worth the sacrifice. No woman has the right to stand between the Prince and you.” Sir John had forgotten Nick’s presence. He held his head erect, and his face showed younger by ten years ; that was because Nancy was looking at him with the old, clear glance of trust. Pie laughed quietly, for he had missed that glance of late.

“You’re right, Nancy, and I was wrong. I see it now. Nothing should ever stand between loyalty and a man’s sword-arm—not even you, Nancy.” He brushed a hand across his eyes as if to clear away the mists. “Yet at the time it seemed—well, righteous. The Prince is as jealous of a woman’s honor as of his own, and perhaps— oh, indeed, the Prince may know what kept me from the southward march. Civil war, Nancy—and the rabble all let loose—you scarcely understand your peril.”

“The Prince does know, sir,” said Nicholas quietly. “I made it my business to inform him. I was telling Nancy not long ago how warm he was in praise of you.”

Sir John rose from his chair, and again he laughed, as a boy might. “I’d forgotten you, Nick, and that was ungrateful of me, now I hear your

news. The Prince—he forgot my treachery, you say?”

“He named it loyalty to the bonniest lass in Lancashire. Nancy was presented to him, you remember, and the Prince does not forget.”

Nancy herself was out of earshot. She had carried 'her penitence to the kitchen, and had bidden the maids to bring in supper for a hungry guest. She could not rest indoors, but went out again on to the terrace, and watched the moon come up above the twilit hills and blamed herself for what was past regretting.

In the dining-hall Sir John pressed food and wine on his guest, and Nicholas Thorne, soon as he had stayed his hunger, began to talk in low, eager tones, glancing constantly towards the doors as if in fear of eavesdroppers.

“The cause is in this plight, Sir John,” he said. “His Highness is in 'hiding, somewhere on the western coasts of Scotland ; and my last news of him was that he was safe, and in good heart.”

“Thank God! And then, Nick? There’s a look in your face—a look of hope—as if Culloden had not broken us once for all—as if—”

“We’re rallying again,” Nick gave a quick, light-hearted laugh, for hope was always beckoning him across the marshes of this world. “They scotched us at Culloden, and thought they’d killed us—killed the Stuart love which they’re too dull to understand. Listen, Sir John!” The man’s eyes, his voice, the very set of his big, sturdy figure, grew eloquent, as he spoke of what was to prove a dream—a gallant dream, no more, no less—of better days. “Listen ! Through all the Highlands they wept when the news of Culloden came drifting down the glens, and up to the moorland sheilings. They wept for Charlie Stuart, every man and woman of them, as if he had been their first-born. That was the sort of love they carried, and when their grief began to quieten, there were men of the broken army—I was one of them—who rode in and out

among them, and set hope flaming like a beacon-fire again, and bade them keep their weapons bright where they were hidden in the heather. There's been a second Culloden—”

“With the victory to us? My lad, my lad, reach down that sword of mine—the one that hangs near to my wife’s portrait—I’ve kept it bright, God knows, for every day I’ve wiped the blade and prayed that I might—” “Gently, sir. The Prince absolves you from the long ride north, the peril—at your age—” ,

Sir John got to his feet. He was a good figure of a man at five-and-sixty, straight and broad. “At my age, boy?” he flashed. “Age is as age deals with you. Reach down my sword, I say !”

The younger man humored his whim, and Sir John took the keen, thin blade from its scabbard and tested the edge of it. “It played a better part in the Fifteen than in the Fortyfive,” he murmured, with a note of wistfulness in his voice. “Well, Nick, well? I gather the Prince finds work for me at the eleventh hour? Is that not so?”

“Yes. I am here in Lancashre to rally both the well-affected and the doubtful gentry ; but you can do more in one day than I could in a month, as the Prince was good enough to tell me to my face when I saw him last in Scotland.”

“He said that?” asked the other eagerly.

“He knew you through and through, you see. There’s no man placed as you are to lead the new movement in Lancashire. The Government does not suspect you any longer. No, no. Sir John, there’s no shame in that! You’ll be free to ride here and there on what will seem so many visits of ceremony to your neighbors. When all is ready I shall have news from Scotland of the meeting-place, and our friends can ride north in twos and threes, like plain gentlemen who travel in company because the roads are over-run with highwaymen.”

Sir lohn nodded as Nicholas map-

ped out each stage of the plan. There were difficulties enough in the venture. and weaknesses, but the old knight's enthusiasm was kindled, and he did not pause to question. He did not ask. for instance, why the gentry of Lancashire should be more willing to rally round a defeated cause than to one which only a few months ago had shown high promise of success; for he judged all men by his own standard, and to his simple, chivalrous mind it seemed a matter of course that greater sacrifice should be made for ân imperilled than for a prosperous cause.

“I shall be one of those little companies who travel together because the roads are unsafe,” he said with a boyish laugh, as he made feints and passes with the slender sword-blade. “All shall be done as the Prince commands—and when the time comes, Nancy will be glad to see me riding into Scotland.”

Nicholas Thorne busied himself with a bundle of dispatches which he had taken from the pocket of his cavalry coat. There was something oddly pathetic in Sir John’s reference to Nancy, and the old man’s voice had broken a little at her name, as if he were remembering the shame and trouble of the months gone by.

“His Highness sends this letter to you,” said Nick abruptly—for he hated pathos as sincerely as any man of action. “You need no credentials, Sir John, but the Prince thought it might help you in this business of beating up recruits. And now, goodnight. sir. I must be in Preston before midnight, and the roads are vile.”

“Another cup, lad, before you get to saddle !—let me pour if for you. Plague take Nancy, where is she? 'Tis her place, not mine, to fill your stirrup-cup.”

Sir John was full of high spirits, and could see only the road that led up to Scotland and to honor. When they left their wine, and he saw his guest to the door, he laughed slily at sight of Nancy standing framed by the moonlight and the terrace wall and the sleepy hills beyond.

“Go, snatch the last stirrup-cup of all, Nick,” he said, “and get to saddle. By’r Lady, I remember how sweetly Nancy’s mother used to kiss me when I went my journeyings.”

He stayed indoors discreetly until the sound of Nick’s hoof-beats had died along the drive below the terrace steps ; then he went out into the moonlight, and found Nancy standing at the top of the stone stairway. Sir John held the Prince’s letter in his hand, and the feel of it gave him new buoyancy and strength.

“Sweetheart,” he said, coming close to her side, “it is good to have no matter of honor between you and me. Nick has lifted a cloud from us both —and there’s the Prince’s letter here of confidence and trust—and—and, surely, it is good to be alive.” ,

Nancy turned and looked at him, gravely, tenderly, with a knowledge and a great pity that in itself was pride. Then suddenly she sobbed, and nestled close against him, and the Prince’s letter fell unheeded on the terrace walk.

“I’ve been blind and foolish. Forgive me.”

“Nay, nay, my girl. Nay, not so foolish. Blind to my faults, maybe, of which I’ve plenty.”

Nancy’s sobs would not be checked. Every word of her father’s, each line of the strong, clean-cut face, as the moonlight softened, hallowed it, showed more of the man’s childlike soul than she had seen in all the years of past communion.

“What was Nick’s errand, father?” she asked, by and by.

“To rouse the country, child—to bring Lancashire, like myself, back into the field of honor—to remind brave men of broken promises, and bid them take this last big chance of retrieving their good name. There’s hard riding ahead of me, Nancy, if God wills it.”

“Hush, father! What was that sound?” cried the girl, putting a quick hand on his arm.

“I hear naught—”

“There! Cannot you hear it now? —the noise of hoof-beats coming

through the slush. It must be Nick returning for some reason.”

Sir John could hear it now. “That cannot be,” he said, shaking his head ; “the horseman is coming up the eastern road, and Nick rode west.”

As they waited, looking down the steep fall of the garden, they heard first one horsemen, then a second, dismount at the foot of the path—'heard them come up with heavy footsteps. They turned the corner of the track, and the watchers on the terrace saw that they wore the Hanoverian livery.

“Bring my sword, Nancy. It lies on the dining table,” said Sir John in a cool, quiet voice of command that sent a thrill of mixed dismay and pleasure through the daughter’s veins.

She brought it to him, and he buckled on the scabbard, and took out his snuff-box, and began to dust his nostrils delicately.

The two horsemen halted at the foot of the terrace steps. They were officers, and seemed, to Nancy’s quick eyes, to be gentlemen of sorts.

“We’ve traced one Nicholas Thorne here, captain in the late rebel army,” said the older of the two. “By your leave, Sir John, we carry the right of search.”

“Ah!” Sir John answered blandly. “You may search, sir. I would, indeed, ask you to search, since my good name seems in need of vindication.”

The two officers glanced at each other. They were puzzled by Sir John’s ease of manner, which was obviously unfeigned and real. It was then that Nancy caught sight of the Prince’s letter where it lay at her father’s feet, just as he had dropped it not long ago. This letter was the one piece of evidence against them, and instinctively she stooped and picked it up.

The older officer saw the quick action, saw her thrust the letter into the bosom of her gown. “You will give that letter into my keeping, madam,” he snapped. “Nick Thorne must be growing light-headed to drop hints of damning evidence about his friends’ gardens.”

Sir John turned sharply, and realized not only his own danger, but that of all the Prince’s hopes for Lancashire. He was touched by keener remorse. Once again his thoughts had been so wrapped up in Nancy that he had allowed himself to be careless of the Cause ; and better men than he mnght suffer for the lapse.

Then suddenly remorse went by him. He forgot Nancy and the past. He stood to his full height, and whipped his blade out, and felt his youth return to him, and youth’s throbbing strength and eagerness.

“The way to the letter lies here, gentlemen—across my sword,” he said with temperate gaiety.

The flight of steps that gave upon the terrace was narrow, and the officers held back, perplexed by this change of front, and doubtful as to right of precedence up the stair that only one swordsman at a time could mount.

‘T beg you to see these gentlemen, Nancy,” said Sir John. “They do not care for moonlight duels.”

The elder man dropped an oath, pushed his comrade aside, and came up the steps.

Nancy held her breath, and watched the fight begin; and her first dread was lost in marvel at her father’s swordsmanship. Sir John seemed “fey” to-night. He repulsed the other’s heavy-handed furious attacks as if lie played with him; and then he chose his moment, and drove his blade home and home. The thrust was so eager that his very body followed it, and the two of them went crashing down the steps, falling on the comrade of the wounded man who had mounted close behind his fellow.

Sir John picked himself up unhurt, but one officer lay motionless on the reddening gravel, and the other leaned stunned and sick against the stone balustrade that had caught his head as the other swept him down.

“Ah, God be thanked,” murmured Nancy, thinking not of the wounded —the dying, it might be—but of her father’s safety.

Then she turned, for a step sounded briskly at the far end of the terrace. It was Nick Thorne, whose horse had gone dead lame two miles away, compelling him to return for a night’s shelter. He had returned in time to see the end of the swift duel, and now he came and put an arm about Nancy without a word said.

It was Sir John who broke the silence, as he wiped his blade and put it softly back into its scabbard.

“An instalment of my debt to the Prince,” he said gravely. “You will assure him, Nick, that I mean to pay my debt one day in full.”

It is not exactly what you do As the way you do or say it, — For what would the e^tf amount to, pray, If the hen gxH on the perch to lay it? —Marshall P. Wilder.