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“I have no doubt of it,” Stelfax remarked, drily. “And thou hast done thy best to carry out the order. Wert thou to get thy deserts, thou shouldst have double the number of stripes I just now ordered thee; but thou art free. Thou owest thy liberation to this pretty damsel. Let him not out of your sight,” he added to the troopers, as they undid the thong.
With a covert glance at Ninian, which seemed to say “Forget not what I have just done for you!" Patty Whinchat hastily disappeared.
Filling a large silver flagon, holding well-nigh a quart, with Bordeaux, Stelfax emptied it without drawing breath; pronounced the wine good; and then, getting up, expressed his intention of forth with searching the house. He ordered John Habergeon and Ninian to attend him, but made no objection to the company of Mr. Beard and Micklegift, who proffered to go with him. Sergeant Delves and the two troopers brought up the rear. Old Martin Geere joined the party in the hall, and on seeing him, Stelfax cried out,
“ Go fetch thy keys quickly, thou Pharaoh's butler. I will have every room and every closet-ay, and every secret place, opened unto me."
“ There are no secret places that I wot of, worshipful captain," old Martin replied.
“ Thou liest ! Stelfax exclaimed, fiercely; "and I will make thee show them to me, or thou shalt have the thumbscrew."
While old Martin, in a state of great trepidation, hurried off to obey the terrible captain's behest, the latter marched into the library, and glanced around it, making contemptuous observations on many of the objects that met his view. He had just finished his scrutiny when Martin came back with a large bunch of keys. “ I will begin with the ground-floor,” Stelfax said.
« Conduct me to the kitchen and cellars.”
The old serving-man bowed and led the way to the back part of the house, Stelfax and the others following him, with the exception of Mr. Beard and the Independent minister, who stayed in the entrance-hall. As Stelfax passed the buttery, he perceived half a dozen troopers seated at à table, with well-laden trenchers and large mugs before them. Amongst them was a great brawnylooking fellow, with his head tied up with a napkin, through which the blood had oozed. This was Helpless Henly. To judge from the expeditious manner in which Henly was clearing his trencher, he was not much worse for his broken pate. On seeing Ninian, the injured Ironside sprang to his feet, and drawing his tuck from its scabbard, would have spitted him as completely as the jack heron had recently transfixed the poor tartaret, but for the interference of his captain, who ordered the fellow to sit down again-a command which he obeyed with ill-concealed discontent, and muttered threatenings at Ninian.
The next visit was paid to the kitchen, where other troopers were discovered, similarly employed to those in the buttery. A brace of them, having satisfied their appetites, were seated near the fire, smoking their pipes, and watching the merry movements of the active little turnspit in his box. Stelfax tarried no longer in the kitchen than allowed him time to number the household, and put a few questions to them.
Next came the cellar. A short flight of steps conducted the searchers into an extensive range of vaults with strong stone walls and arches calculated to sustain the weight of the superincumbent structure. Nothing, however, could be discovered within these subterranean chambers more dangerous than certain hogsheads of ale placed within the arched recesses. Nor, when the wine cellars were unlocked, was anything to be discovered except a goodly supply of long-necked, cobwebbed flasks quietly reposing in their bins. These bottles offered too strong a temptation to the troopers to be resisted. Each of them, including Sergeant Delves, took toll from the bins, carrying off a plentiful supply for themselves and their comrades. No notice of the spoliation was taken by their leader.
The cellar doors being locked, the searchers returned to the buttery, where the wine was put aside by the purloiners for future consumption, and this precaution taken, the Roundhead captain intimated his intention of visiting the upper rooms. Upon which they repaired to the entrance-hall, where they found Mr. Beard and Micklegift, and after examining several other apartments on this floor, the whole party went up-stairs
. Every room in the upper story, large and small-with one exception—was carefully searched; every closet unlocked ; every place, likely, or unlikely, to conceal a fugitive, inspected. The apartments allotted to Mr. Beard and his daughter underwent the same rigorous scrutiny; even Dulcia's sleeping-chamber was not respected. In this latter apartment Patty Whinchat had sought refuge, hoping to escape further molestation, and she was greatly alarmed when Stelfax and the Ironsides burst upon her retreat. The Roundhead captain, however, sought to reassure her, and thrusting out his followers, claimed a kiss as the reward of his liberation of Ninian. Of course, Patty could not refuse the request. Neither did she exhibit quite so much disinclination to the red-bearded captain's salute, as she appeared to have done in the case of Helpless Henly.
Colonel Maunsel's chamber was reserved to the last." Refusal to admit the searchers within it would have instantly awakened suspicion, so old Martin had no alternative but to open it for them.
On entering the room, Stelfax uttered an exclamation which filled John Habergeon with misgiving. But the trusty old fellow took heart when the searchers marched into the inner room, and proceeded to its careful examination. The hangings were pulled aside;
the old oak armoire was opened; the closets peered into—but nothing was found. John began to hope that the danger was over.
But all his fears revived when Stelfax, throwing himself into the colonel's elbowchair, and fixing his eyes upon the great mantelpiece, exclaimed in a loud voice to Sergeant Delves,
“Bring hither hammer, hatchet, lever, chisel, and auger. I have work for you to do.”
SHOWING HOW INCREASE MICKLEGIFT DID A GOOD TURN TO CLAVERING.
As this terrible order was issued, and the sergeant and the two troopers went forth to execute it, anxious looks were furtively exchanged by the Royalists, who now gave up Clavering for lost. These glances did not escape Stelfax, though he feigned not to perceive them, but smiled to himself. For one moment it occurred to John Habergeon to make an attack upon the Roundhead captain, and by the sacrifice of his own life possibly ensure Clavering's escape. But he was deterred by Mr. Beard, who, reading his desperate purpose in his looks, laid his hand
arm, and besought him in a low tone to forbear.
Secretly enjoying the consternation he had occasioned, Stelfax now arose from the chair, and marched to the window as if to look out at the garden, but really to indulge in a quiet laugh.
“If we could only get him out of the room for one minute, before the others return, Captain Clavering might be saved,” John Habergeon whispered.
“I see not how that can be accomplished,” groaned Mr. Beard. “The poor young man is lost. What will his unhappy father say when he returns?
“I cannot bear to think of it," John returned, with a look of anguish. “Cost what it may, an effort must be made to save him.”
" I may help you in this extremity,” said Micklegift, in a low tone to John. You will not forget the service?”
“ Never,” John returned, emphatically—“never! But what you do must be done quickly."
“Not a moment shall be lost on my part,” Micklegift rejoined. And he moved towards the Roundhead leader.
“Methinks you did not sufficiently examine yon further closet, captain,” Micklegift observed. “In my opinion it hath a false back.”
“You must have quicker eyes than I have, to have made that discovery, Master Preacher," Stelfax cried, falling at once into the snare.
“However, I will go see.” “I will show you what I mean," said the Independent divine, preceding him to the closet.
As he entered the recess with Stelfax, the Independent divine cast a significant look at John, the import of which the latter at once comprehended.
“Thou art lighter of foot than I, Ninian,” he said to the young falconer. “Fly to yon closet !—the key is luckily in the door lock them in !-quick!”
Ninian needed no second bidding: Stealing swiftly and noiselessly to the closet-door, he clapped it to suddenly, and locked it, almost before Captain Stelfax, who was at the further end of the deep recess, could turn round.
Infuriated at the successful trick played upon him, the Roundhead leader dashed himself with all his force against the door; but it was of solid oak, and resisted his efforts. He then roared out to the Royalists to set him instantly free, threatening them with his direst vengeance if they refused; but so far from attending to him, Ninian very coolly took the key out of the lock, saying, with a laugh, “ If you wait till I let you loose, captain, you will wait long enough.”
Meantime, John Habergeon had not been idle. So soon as Stelfax was secured, he rushed to the mantelpiece, touched the secret spring, and putting his head into the aperture, called to Clavering to come forth without an instant's delay.
The young man at once obeyed the summons. The noise made by the searchers had reached him in his retreat, and guessing the cause, he prepared to stand upon his defence, resolved not to surrender with life. Happily, his resolution was not put to the test.
In a few words John Habergeon explained to him what had occurred. But though he was free, escape might be rendered impracticable by the return of the troopers. What was to be done next? To get out of the house seemed almost impossible. Every outlet, as John knew, was guarded. Still, something must be done--and quickly. No mercy was now to be expected from the maddened Roundhead leader, who was hammering and hacking at the door with his sword, and making a terrific disturbance.
John's brain was usually fertile in expedients, but he was at his wits' end now, when Ninian, coming up to them, recalled his energies.
“ Why do you loiter?” the young falconer cried, impatiently. “Those cursed troopers will be back in a moment, and Captain Clavering will be caught.”
“But all the doors are guarded !" John cried.
“ Except the door of this room, and that will serve our turn," Ninian answered, with a laugh. “Come with me, and I will show you how to get out of the house, in spite of them.” “Have with you then," cried Clavering. Will
you with us, sir?” he added, to Mr. Beard.
“No, my dear son,” the clergyman said. “Do you seek safety in flight; I will abide here."
“ You had better come, reverend sir,” John cried. “Yon savage Roundhead is no respecter of persons, and will show little consideration for your holy calling."
“I will withstand his malice,” Mr. Beard answered, resignedly. “Do not concern yourselves about me. Go!--and Heaven guard
“Quick! quick! or you will be too late !" cried Ninian, who had partly opened the door. “ Methinks I hear them coming."
“ Make sure that we may venture forth,” cried Clavering.
Ninian stepped out into the gallery, and reported that no one was there, but that he could hear the voices of the troopers in the hall below. On this assurance, Clavering and John Habergeon instantly went forth, closing the door after them.
Left alone, the good clergyman sat down, and strove to prepare himself for the scene which he expected to ensue. All the time, Stelfax continued battering at the closet door, and vociferating loudly.
Ere long, Sergeant Delves and the two troopers entered the room, bearing the implements for breaking open the mantelpiece. They were surprised on seeing only Mr. Beard, and at a loss to account for their leader's disappearance, for Stelfax had momentarily ceased his clamour-probably from exhaustion. However, he presently renewed it, and with greater fury than ever, and then Sergeant Delves, beginning to comprehend what had occurred, rushed up to the clergyman, and, seizing his shoulder, shook him violently, exclaiming,
“What! thou perfidious and dissembling Episcopalian, hast thou entrapped our leader, a mighty man of valour like Amasiah, the captain of Jehoshaphat, and fastened him within yon closet? Give me the key thereof instantly, or I will smite thee with the edge of the sword, even as the false priests of Baal were put to death by the soldiers of Jehu."
“ To do me injury will advance thee little, friend,” replied, Mr. Beard firmly. "I have not the key. Thou wert better liberate thy captain thyself. Thou hast the means of doing so.”
Apparently, the sergeant thought the advice good, for he called out to Captain Stelfax that assistance was at hand, which had the effect of tranquillising him. Delves next directed his men to burst open the door-a task which they easily accomplished.
Thus liberated, the Roundhead captain strode forth, sword in hand, and foaming with rage, followed by Micklegift, who maintained the most perfect composure.
“ 'Tis as I expected!” Stelfax cried, looking around, and seeing only Mr. Beard ; "the treacherous rogues have fled. But they shall not escape me. They cannot have quitted the house."
“ Impossible, captain," Sergeant Delves rejoined. “Every issue is guarded.”
“ We will have them, alive or dead!” cried Stelfax. “Get thee down stairs quickly, Delves, and give the alarm to thy comrades. Bid them be on the alert. If any one attempts to escape, let him be shot down. Bring up half a dozen men with you. We will search the house from top to bottom but we will find them.