The Brown Mask

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THE BROWN MASK

By

Percy J. Brebner

Author of “Princess Maritza,” “Vayenne,” “A Royal Ward”

1911

CONTENTS

CHAPTER
1. BRETHREN OF THE ROAD
2. BARBARA LANISON
3. GREY EYES
4. THE NUN OF AYLINGFORD
5. CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL
6. MAD MARTIN
7. KING MONMOUTH
8. SEDGEMOOR AND AFTERWARDS
9. “THE JOLLY FARMERS”
10. FATE AND THE FIDDLER
11. THE FUGITIVE AT AYLINGFORD
12. BARBARA HELPS TO CLOSE A DOOR
13. THE WAY OF ESCAPE
14. A WOMAN REBELS
15. BARBARA LANISON IN TOWN
16. PREPARED FOR SACRIFICE
17. BARBARA’S SELF-SACRIFICE
18. THE JOURNEY TO DORCHESTER
19. THE HUT IN THE WOOD
20. SCARLET HANGINGS
21. LORD ROSMORE DICTATES TERMS
22. THE LUCK OF LORD ROSMORE
23. LORD ROSMORE AS A FRIEND
24. LOVE AND FEAR
25. THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE
26. THE FLIGHT
27. OUT OF DORCHESTER
28. THE LEATHER CASE
29. SAFETY
30. ALONG THE NORTH ROAD

CHAPTER I

BRETHREN OF THE ROAD

Dismal in appearance, the painted sign over the mean doorway almost
obliterated by time and weather, there was nothing attractive about the
“Punch-Bowl” tavern in Clerkenwell. It was hidden away at the end of a
narrow alley, making no effort to vaunt its existence to the world at
large, and to many persons, even in the near neighbourhood, it was
entirely unknown. Like a gentleman to whom debauchery has brought shame
and the desire to conceal himself from his fellows, so the “Punch-Bowl”
seemed an outcast amongst taverns. Chance visitors were few, were
neither expected nor welcomed, and ran the risk of being told by the
landlady, in terms which there was no possibility of misunderstanding,
that the place was not for them. It was natural, therefore, that a
certain air of mystery should surround the house, for, although the
alley was a cul-de-sac, there were stories of marvellous escapes
from this trap even when the entrance was closed by a troop of soldiers,
and it was whispered that there was a secret way out from the
“Punch-Bowl” known only to the favoured few. Nor was an element of
romance wanting. The dwellers in this alley were of the poorest sort,
dirty and unkempt, picking up a precarious livelihood, pickpockets and
cutpurses—”foysters” and “nyppers” as their thieves’ slang named them;
yet, through all this wretched shabbiness there would flash at intervals
some fine gentleman, richly dressed, and with the swagger of St. James’s
in his gait. Conscious of the sensation he occasioned, he passed through
the alley looking strangely out of place, yet with no uncertain step. He
was a hero, not only to these ragged worshippers, but in a far wider
circle where wit and beauty moved; he knew it, gloried in it, and recked
little of the price which must some day be paid for such popularity. The
destination of these gentlemen was always the “Punch-Bowl” tavern.

Neither of a man, nor of a tavern, is it safe to judge only by the
exterior. A grim and forbidding countenance may conceal a warm heart,
even as the unprepossessing “Punch-Bowl” contained a cosy and
comfortable parlour. To-night, half a dozen fine gentlemen were enjoying
their wine, and it was evident that the landlady was rather proud of her
guests. Buxom, and not too old to forget that she had once been
accounted pretty, she still loved smartness and bright colours, was not
averse to a kiss upon occasion, and had a jest—coarse, perhaps, but
with some wit in it—for each of her customers. She knew them
well—their secrets, their love episodes, their dangers; sometimes she
gave advice, had often rendered them valuable help, but she had also a
keen eye for business. Her favours had to be paid for, and even from the
handsomest of her customers a kiss had never been known to settle a
score. The “Punch-Bowl” was no place for empty pockets, and bad luck was
rather a crime than an excuse. When it pleased her the landlady could
tell many tales of other fine gentlemen she had known and would never
see again, and she always gave the impression that she considered her
former customers far superior to her present ones. Perhaps she found the
comparison good for her business since she spoke to vain men. She had
become reminiscent this evening.

“The very night before he was taken he sat where you’re sitting,” she
said, pointing to one of her customers who was seated by the hearth.
“Ah! He made a good end of it did Jim o’ the Green Coat; kicked off his
boots as if they were an old pair he had done with, and threw the
ordinary out of the cart, saying he had no time to waste on him just
then. I was there and saw it all.”

There was silence as she concluded her glowing tale. Depression may take
hold of the most careless and light-hearted for a moment, and even the
attraction of making a good end, with an opportunity of spurning a
worthless ordinary, cannot always appeal. The landlady had contrived to
make her story vivid, and furtive glances were cast at the individual
who occupied the seat she had indicated. There suddenly appeared to be
something fatal in it and ample reason why a man might congratulate
himself on being seated elsewhere. The occupant was the least concerned.
He had taken the most comfortable place in the room; it seemed to be
rightly his by virtue of his dress and bearing. He had the grand air as
having mixed in high society, his superiority was tacitly admitted by
his companions, and the landlady had addressed herself especially to
him, as though she knew him for a man of consequence.

“When the time comes you shall see me die game, too, I warrant,” he
laughed, draining his glass and passing it to be refilled. “One death is
as good as another, and at Tyburn it comes quicker than to those who lie
awaiting it in bed.”

“That’s true,” said the landlady.

“I should hate to die in a bed,” the man went on. “The open road for me
and a quick finish. It’s the best life if it isn’t always as long as it
might be. I wouldn’t forsake it for anything the King could offer me.
It’s a merry time, with romance, love and adventure in it, with plenty
to get and plenty to spend, with a seasoning of danger to give it
piquancy—a gentleman’s life from cock-crow to cock-crow, and not worthy
of a passing thought is he who cannot make a good end of it. I’d sooner
have the hangman for a bosom friend than a man who is likely to whimper
on the day of reckoning. Did I tell you that a reverend bishop offered
me fifty guineas for my mare the other day?”

“You sold her?” came the question in chorus.

“Sold her! No! I told him that she would be of little use to him, since
no one but myself could get her up to a coach.”

“Your impudence will be the death of you, John,” laughed the landlady.

“That seems a fairly safe prophecy,” answered Gentleman Jack—for so his
companions named him—”still, I’ve heard of one bishop who took to the
road in his leisure hours. He died of a sudden fever, it was said; but,
for all that, he returned one night from a lonely ride across Hounslow
Heath, and was most anxious to conceal the fact that somebody had put a
bullet into him. My bishop may have become ambitious—indeed, I think he
had, for he had intellect enough to understand my meaning and was not in
the least scandalised.”

“Then we may yet welcome him at the ‘Punch-Bowl,'” said one man. “So
far, this house has entertained no one higher in the church than a Fleet
parson. I see no sin in drinking the bishop’s good health and wishing
him the speedy possession of a horse to match his ambition.”

“Anyone may serve as a toast,” said another; “but could a bishop be good
company under any circumstances, think you?”

“Gad! why not?” asked Gentleman Jack. “He’d Spend his time trying to
square his profession with his conscience maybe, and when a man is
reduced to that, bishop or no bishop, there’s humour enough, I warrant.”

The health was drunk with laughter, and the air of depression which had
followed the landlady’s recital disappeared like clouds from an April
sky. Each one had some story to tell, some item to add to the
accumulated glory of the road.

“Ay, it’s a merry life,” said the man who had had doubts about the
bishop’s company, “and the only drawback is that it comes to an end when
you’re at the top of your success. The dealers in blood-money never hunt
a man down until he’s worth his full price.”

“And isn’t that the best time to take the last ride?” exclaimed
Gentleman Jack. “Who would choose to grow old and be forgotten? What
should we do sitting stiffly in an armchair, wearing slippers because
boots hurt our poor swollen feet? What should we be without a pair of
legs strong enough to grip the saddle or with eyes too dim to recognise
a pretty woman, lacking fire to fall in love, and with lips which had
lost their zest for kissing?”

“But we come to that last ride before we lack anything—that’s the
trouble,” was the answer.

“Not always,” said another man. “Galloping Hermit was feared on all the
roads before I had stopped my first coach, and he is still feared
to-day.” The speaker was young, and he mentioned the name of the
notorious highwayman with a kind of reverence.

“They say he’s the devil himself, and that’s why he’s never been taken,”
said another. “Did any of you ever see him?”

“Once.” And they all turned quickly towards the man who spoke. “My mare
had gone lame, and I had dismounted in a copse to examine her, when
there was the quick, regular beat of hoofs at a gallop across the turf.
I was alert on my own account in a moment, crouching down amongst the
undergrowth, for with a lame animal I could have made but a poor show.
There flashed past me a splendid horseman, man and beast one perfect
piece of harmony. The moon was near the full. I saw the neat, strong
lines of the horse, the easy movement of the rider, and I could see that
the mask which the man wore was brown. This happened two years ago, out
beyond Barnet.”

“And without that brown mask no one knows him.” said the man who had
first spoken of him. “He has been met on all the roads, north, south,
east and west—never in company, always alone. He never fails, yet the
blood-feasters have watched for him in vain. Truly, he disappears as
mysteriously as the devil might. He may go to Court. He may be a
well-known figure there, gaming with the best, a favoured suitor where
beauty smiles. He may even have been here amongst us at the ‘Punch-Bowl’
without our knowing it.”

“It is not impossible,” Gentleman Jack admitted, smiling a little at the
others’ enthusiasm.

“I envy him,” was the answer. “We seem mean beside such a man as

Galloping Hermit.”

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