* * * * *
Sir James and Chris had been out for a long ride up the estate, talking but little, for each knew what was in the heart of the other; and they were just dismounting at the terrace-steps when there was a sound of furious galloping; and a couple of riders burst through the gateway a hundred yards away.
Chris felt his heart leap and hammer in his throat, but stood passively awaiting what he knew was coming; and a few seconds later, Nicholas Maxwell checked his horse passionately at the steps.
“God damn them!” he cried, with a crimson quivering face.
Sir James stepped up at once and took him by the arm.
“Nick,” he said, and glanced at the staring grooms.
Nicholas showed his teeth like a dog.
“God damn them!” he said again.
The other rider had come up by now; he was dusty and seemed spent. He was a stranger to the father and son who waited on the steps; but he looked like a groom, and slipped off his horse deftly and took Sir Nicholas’s bridle.
“Come in Nick,” said Sir James. “We can talk in the house.”
As the three went up together, with the strange rider at a respectful distance behind, Nicholas broke out again in one sentence.
“They have done it,” he said, “he is dead. Mother of God!”
His whip twitched in his clenching hand. He turned and jerked his head beckoningly to the man who followed; and the four went on together, through the hall and into Sir James’s parlour. Sir James shut the door.
“Tell us, Nick.”
Nicholas stood at the hearth, glaring and shifting.
“This fellow knows—he saw it; tell them, Dick.”
The man gave his account. He was one of the servants of Sir Nicholas’ younger brother, who lived in town, and had been sent down to Great Keynes immediately after the execution that had taken place that morning. He was a man of tolerable education, and told his story well.
Sir James sat as he listened, with his hand shading his eyes; Nicholas was fidgetting at the hearth, interrupting the servant now and again with questions and reminders; and Chris leaned in the dark corner by the window. There floated vividly before his mind as he listened the setting of the scene that he had looked upon a few days ago, though there were new actors in it now.
“It was this morning, sir, on Tower Hill. There was a great company there long before the time. He came out bravely enough, walking with the Lieutenant that was his friend, and with a red cross in his hand.”
“You were close by,” put in Nicholas
“Yes, sir; I was beside the stairs. They shook as he went up; they were crazy steps, and he told the Lieutenant to have a care to him.”
“The words, man, the words!”
“I am not sure, sir; but they were after this fashion: ’See me safe up, Master Lieutenant; I will shift for myself at the coming down.’ So he got up safe, and stamped once or twice merrily to see if all were firm. Then he made a speech, sir, and begged all there to pray for him. He told them that he was to die for the faith of the Catholic Church, as my Lord of Rochester did.”