his brows, and Verney's face was blank. Whatever recollec-
tion they kept of delirious ravings, uttered two months be-
fore, had been driven from their heads by Jock's vehemence.
Jock saw his error, and pulling himself erect, tried to speak
more steadily. " Can't you remember, Verney ? Think I It
means much to me. Think, man ! Think !"
"Can you remember aught?" Verney appealed to Fram-
" He said the box was a sure get-penny, or some such folly,"
After a desperate moment of brain-racking, Verney added,
" He said that under a man's nose was the surest hiding-place.
Tevery, tilted back on his stool in an agony of thought,
dropped forward with a crash. "Look you!" he cried tri-
A VOICE FROM THE DARK 287
umphantly. "Something Johnny Hetherington said of a
stone seat I"
"That had to do with the girl in Germany, had it not?"
Jock scarcely heard him. All at once, straightened, dis-
entangled, he saw the threads of the web that so long had
baffled him running smoothly under his hand. The little deal
box, the gift of which was to be his cousin's atonement, the
box that would prove to him a sure get-penny, for which
Philip was to pay swingeingly, the little box that, by
Philip's own tale, was left in the Captain's hands, was hidden
under Philip's very nose. In his mind's eye Jock saw a stone
seat the stone seat at the head of the garden at Gray-
stones, the very stone seat where he himself had sat kicking
his heels one day of doubt and discouragement.
With a sudden catch of laughter he turned to his friends,
and there was that in his bearing that made them give over
their loud wrangle as to the place that the girl in High Ger-
many had in the story.
"Lads!" said Jock. "Is there any among you will go
with me adventuring ? I'm minded to trace back my way to
Graystones, ay, and for the sake of him that now is master
of Graystones, to go myself a-hunting for that famous little
THE LEAGUE OF THE UNLIKELY
ESDRAS INCHCOME, a bachelor by habit and by nature,
dwelt on an ancient street in Bury St. Edmund's, in an an-
cient house, half timbered without, and within a labyrinth
of twisting passages and unexpected steps and odd little doors
set in the dull wainscot. Great rafters spanned the low ceil-
ings of the rooms, and the walls were lined with heavy presses,
blackened with age, that gave out an odor of musty parch-
In this dim legal wilderness thrived Esdras Inchcome, under
the ministrations of a deaf old kinswoman who was a trium-
phant cook and not talkative. On this November day, in
her wonted silence, she had laid the table at noon in Inch-
come's favorite dim chamber in the first story, setting out a
carbonadoed tongue of her own delectable concocting, and a
crusty loaf, and a modest tankard of Gascoigne wine, and then
discreetly had withdrawn to the obscure lower fastnesses of
the old house.
In sober approval Inchcome was making his dinner, read-
ing the while from a brown Tacitus, propped before him
against a volume of Coke, when the aged kinswoman burst
breathless upon him. "Cousin Esdras!" she began, and
stopped as if affrighted at her own garrulity.
Inchcome turned a page of the Tacitus. "What is it,
woman?" he shouted, mindful of her infirmity.
THE LEAGUE OF THE UNLIKELY 289
" Four gentlemen to speak with you. He says his name is
For a perceptible moment Inchcome hesitated, while he
reflected upon several matters, chief of which was the look on
Jock Hetherington's face on a former occasion, when Jock had
promised, in a certain contingency, to pay him a visit. Also
in that moment did the little lawyer repent of the jaunty
reference that, in his last interview with Jock, he had made
to the stocks and to common vagabonds.
Still, Inchcome was no coward, so, after a glance into the
drawer of the table, right beneath his hand, where his pistols
lay, he raised his voice to an encouraging shout, "Bid them
come hither, then!"
When the woman had gone, he went on with his dinner,
though soon he found himself eating to the accompaniment of
loud trampling up the stair and down the passage that led to
his door. With unpremeditated noise the invaders entered,
for Tevery, in ignorance of the pitfalls of Inchcome's dwell-
ing, pitched down the step into the room, and Verney, being
a tall man, just missed braining himself against one of the
rafters that supported the ceiling.
But Jock, with a catlike quality of keeping his feet, landed
safe in the room, and halted squarely and firmly at the side
of the table opposite Inchcome. He was white, with a fresh
scar above the temple, and he was shabby in the doublet and
breeches that had been Lieutenant Phil's, but he had ac-
quired a sword, and a horseman's boots and hat and cloak,
and thereto he had a grim manner of self-control, far different
from the shaken state in which Inchcome last had seen him.
" I've come to speak with you," Jock threw out like a chal-
"And you bring three interpreters?" said Inchcome,
Tevery struck in. "The odds were against our comrade
290 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
when you dealt with him last, d'ye mind? So this time
we've come along to see fair play."
Luckily at that danger point Verney came out of the corner
where he had been nursing his bumped head, and claiming
acquaintance with Inchcome, set matters on a more amicable
basis. With such guarantee of pacific purpose, Inchcome
bade his guests be seated, a process accomplished without
incident, save that Framlingham, muttering that he was fain
to have more light, started to put aside the curtain that
masked the window and brought it away entirely. In the
flood of cobwebby daylight that brought a ghostly sense of
strangeness to the room, half darkened for long, Jock and
Inchcome, as they had done several times before, held con-
"First," said Jock, in his old aggressive attitude, sitting
forward with his folded arms on the table, " tell me truly, sir.
Is there a second will in your lost deal box that will supersede
the one now in force?"
"Absolutely," replied Inchcome.
"Under this second will, who is like to benefit?"
Inchcome smiled. " My good sir, the heirs of the late Philip
Heyroun have asked me that question at least thrice each
week in the past four months." He paid Jock's intelligence
the compliment of not carrying his speech to a conclusion.
"Can you tell me this?" Jock changed his note. "Will
the second will, the true will, put a spoke among the wheels
of the present heir of Gray stones?"
Inchcome smiled, a pale and wicked smile, and nodded.
Jock smiled too. "Then I have a clew to the whereabouts
of that deal box," he said.
In their joint hatred of the chestnut-haired Philip, Inch-
come and Jock, for once, were in accord. Without waste
of words Jock told what he knew and surmised of the where-
abouts of the lost deal box, and what the chestnut-haired
THE LEAGUE OF THE UNLIKELY 291
Philip, under constraint, had confessed at the ford on the
Clegden road, and at that last piece of information, in brief
words and pointed, Inchcome set forth his disapproval of
" If the man had had but an ounce of boiled brains in his
skull," said Inchcome, "he would have told me this tale,
even as you say that you told it unto him. Thus we should
have had a clew to follow, full three weeks ago. Now, every
day has made less our hope to find the box, if it be hid within
the limits of Graystones. ; Tis a slender chance you offer us,
yet 'tis worth the proving." Abruptly he turned to Jock.
"And what's your price for this information, eh?"
Jock grinned. "You've read me rarely, sir. There is a
price, yes, and 'tis that I go with you to Graystones and at
my own good pleasure speak five minutes alone with Philip
"Let me be your second," said Tevery.
Inchcome softened to unusual good fellowship, called for
wine, a parlous process with his deaf kinswoman, and made his
guests to drink. Somehow, in the sequel, working through
Verney Claybourne, he brought the three gentlemen to realize
that he wished to speak alone with Jock and that he did not
plot to do him harm. So, at Verney's suggestion, Jock's allies
rose up noisily to take their way back to their inn and thence
to view the town.
"For," said Tevery, cheerfully, "we shall see this matter
to the end. We are all going with Jock to Graystones to find
your plaguy little box!"
With this benediction, Jock and Inchcome were left alone,
and Inchcome was most gracious. He had a place laid for
Jock at table, and an olave pie fetched from the pantry, and
urged him to eat, an invitation which Jock obeyed, though
with misgiving. By his experience, Inchcome was most dan-
gerous when most civil, but for the life of him, he could
292 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
not guess what the civil gentleman would now be driving
"I'll send a message post-haste to Mr. Heyroun at Dray-
cote," Inchcome complimented Jock by making him of his
counsels. "He should be with us in this matter."
"I've good hope," said Jock, "that Rafe Heyroun may
draw profit from the deal box. He has shown me great kind-
ness. Can you not tell me, sir, yes or no, whether he be an
heir under this later will?"
Inchcome gave Jock a look, a curious, sceptical, half-amused
look that puzzled the lad. " Upon your honor, Hetherington,"
he said, "had you not learned from your cousin the contents
of that will when you came first to Graystones?"
Jock made no answer, save to push back his stool in an
offended silence that was so real as almost to convince Inch-
The lawyer made his peace hastily, and at a price. " I did
but jest with you, sir. Come, I believe you, and I so far trust
you that I'll tell you there is that in the later will that will
be of profit to Rafe Heyroun. By the way," he pursued, all
the while he studied Jock, " Rafe sought you wildly when he
returned a week ago from London. 'Twas not in his plan
that you should be dismissed unsuccored and penniless, as I
mistakenly had suffered you to be, nor was he approving of
the marriage that was made that day. He sought for you,
and for his little kinswoman, your wife, but we could find no
trace of you. Where is the gentlewoman, I pray you?"
At the question Jock froze. Althea's wrongs were a ten-
derer subject than his own. "She is at Claybourne manor,"
he answered briefly.
"'Twas a sorry business, that last day at Graystones,"
Inchcome spoke gently. "Perhaps it may be mended, how-
ever. The law has wide resources, Mr. Hetherington."
Oddly enough, Jock had never thought of legal divorce as
THE LEAGUE OF THE UNLIKELY 293
a possibility between Althea and himself. With a selfish
sense of the danger that she might escape him, with a quiv-
ering indignation that any one durst set foot on that most
delicate ground between them, he rose from the table.
" We've no desire to be free of each other," he said, and with
curt leave-taking went away to his friends.
Would Rafe Heyroun, in the same reckless fashion, seek to
thrust into his most sacred privacy, Jock wondered? He
knew that by his bearing at this juncture Rafe must stand
or fall in his regard, and so he waited, half in dread, for the
coming of the man that had been his friend. As he discovered
in the sequel, he might have spared himself that dread.
On his way from London Rafe had spent a night at Hert-
ford with Lieutenant Phil, and from him had heard the story
of Jock's surrender upon Hendie's islet. Phil had set forth
the tale as a matter for laughter, but Rafe, hearing it, had not
laughed. Himself he had given up much for the sake of a
woman, who was now his wife. Moreover, in the light of
what had come later, he was forced to recall the evening in
the barley field and to take shame to himself. Whatever
side Jock had fought on, he had at least been honest in his
wooing of Althea, as honest and as ready to sacrifice himself
as any most godly Puritan youth would have been.
So Rafe, in conscience-stricken haste, dismissed the one
injurious suspicion that he had ever had of Jock, and when
they met next afternoon, in the dim recesses of Inchcome's
house, greeted him as a friend. He was eager to hear Jock's
adventures of the last month, and he asked, with a graver
note in his voice, of Jock's wife. In Inchcome's presence
he made no closer queries, but that evening he sought Jock's
inn, and to the accompaniment of much tobacco, had long
speech alone with him.
" Tis pity of the haste in which Althea was wedded," Rafe
said frankly, "and pity that in that hour she should hold
294 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
herself forsaken of all her kindred." More he could scarcely
say, for he bore upon his conscience the double load that he
himself, dallying in London, prolonging his stay because he
hated the thought of return to the farm, had wilfully been
absent when he might have saved his little kinswoman, and
that, a heavier burden still, it was his own wife's hand that,
closing the door of Draycote on the girl, had sent her headlong
into Jock's arms.
Of his own blame in the matter Rafe could speak, and did,
briefly and honestly. Of his wife's blame, a harder part, he
must needs be silent, though he offered what reparation
was in his power : " Since you are bent to try your fortunes
in the Low Countries, let Althea stay at Draycote in your
absence. It is my wife's prayer also," he added pointedly,
"and she will herself so write unto Althea."
Then, having said all that he could say, Rafe talked with
Jock till midnight of that other subject, so near to their hearts,
the chestnut-haired Philip.
"In his demure way my cousin was a zealous frequenter
of gaming houses, and of other houses." Rafe gave, between
puffs of his pipe, the chief points of the information that
he had acquired in London. "Also, in Silver Street, he had
borrowed money at fifty per cent. To such a pass had he
brought his fortunes that he must fall heir to Graystones,
and speedily, else he had surely lain in the debtors' jail.
There's been false dealing, foul dealing, we all suspect, but
we have no proof. I can find no link between my cousin
Philip and your good cousin, the Captain. When I got word
of that new will, so opportunely brought forward, of a truth
I thought that for us the game was played out." He smiled,
with the sudden flash of laughter in the eyes that Jock remem-
bered. "That was how you came by your ransom. I held
that we had no further use for you, but it seems that I was in
THE LEAGUE OF THE UNLIKELY 295
"Then you hope to find the box at Graystones?" Jock
Rafe shook his head. " I know not ! Yet 'tis worth put-
ting to the proof. "Tis only by finding that lost will that ever
we shall oust my cousin from Graystones. And even if we
recover the will, we shall never be able to bring home to him
the crime that we all suspect."
"Perchance," Jock commented, "Philip will be moved in
his conscience once more to make confession."
Rafe laughed. "That's a youthful, trusting speech that
does not ring right in your mouth, Yorkshire. What is it
you are hiding from me?"
"Nothing, it may be," Jock replied, and left the matter
thus. In detailing his adventures to Rafe, he had been silent
as to what had passed in the Graystones cellar. That useful
knowledge he would share with no man. In his own good
time he might employ it, but with terrible patience he waited
till the time should be ripe.
Next afternoon, in a cold, fine rain, six gentlemen and three
stout serving fellows for Rafe, Verney, and Inchcome had
each with him a trusty man rode severally from Bury St.
Edmund's, and in the fields outside the town made rendez-
vous. Ill assorted as the company was, all, from the astute
Inchcome to the scatter-headed Tevery, had agreed that they
must not risk longer delay, but set at once about the search
for the deal box. At that point they had divided in their
counsels. Inchcome would have gone through the prescribed
legal forms ere he entered the garden at Graystones, while
Jock, true to his military training, would have searched first
and got legal empowerment afterward.
Rafe had given the casting vote. "If we stay for legal
warrant, Cousin Philip may get hint of warning and himself
seek, find, and destroy the box. Moreover, as 'tis likely
there is no box at all, we may well be riding on a wild-goose
296 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
chase, and in such case my good kinsman shall not know of
our vain search and mock at us for our pains."
To this, overborne, perhaps, by the lawlessness of his five
associates, Inchcome had yielded, so, with a dark lantern
and a trowel under their cloaks, the trespassers set forward
through the rain on their long ride to Graystones. Inchcome
spoke gloomily of the unlikelihood of acquiring aught but
rheumatics by the night's work, Tevery prayed that there
might be some scuffling, Verney whistled, and Framlingham
cursed the rain, while Jock and Rafe, each upborne by a differ-
ent quality of hatred, went forward silently, like a brace
of ill-matched beagles, on the trail of the chestnut-haired
It was a long ride to Graystones, and a heavy ride, now
that the roads ran with water. As they had planned, it was
dark when the adventurers halted in the lane that skirted the
lands of the Heyrouns, but, not as they had planned, the time
was something after midnight. They led the horses into a
neighboring field, and after much struggling and some loss of
temper, got the lantern lit. A last stormy whispered confer-
ence they had, to the tune of water dripping from their limp
hat brims, in which the five other gentlemen, by the exertion
of their joint powers, convinced Tevery, first, that they were
not going to carry the house by a direct and noisy assay of
arms, and second, that only two of their number were going
to set foot in the garden.
"I told you there was no reason in your coming," Inch-
come concluded. "You'll rest here with me in this sweet
shower, the ging of you and you will not rest long undis-
covered, if you do not mask that lantern!" he addressed
Framlingham, with sharp exasperation. "Meantime, Mr.
Hetherington,. since he's set to do the work, and Mr. Heyroun,
since he can be trusted with the light, may disport themselves
in the garden, and a merry night to them !"
THE LEAGUE OF THE UNLIKELY 297
In the end they had to pacify Tevery by letting him stand
sentinel in the lane, and then, when the forces were at last
disposed, Jock and Rafe, with the lantern and the trowel,
went about their work. Stepping quietly, they crossed a strip
of plashy turf and reached the garden wall. By good fortune
Rafe, as a lad his uncle's favorite, had learned all the obscure
corners and cat-tracks of Graystones, and so was able, in
spite of the darkness, to find a spot at an angle of the wall
where the rough stones and a little tree that grew adjacent
made it easy for them to scramble to the top. Softly as
might be, they dropped to ground within the walled enclosure
of the garden, and through the sodden tangle of frost-nipped
flower stalks gained the wet path of gravel, and in silence
approached the house and the ancient stone seat that stood
in its shadow.
As the dead man had said, this hiding-place, if it were the
hiding-place that he had chosen for the deal box before he
went himself to chance the fortunes of war, was under Philip's
very nose. With a feeling that even to breathe were danger-
ous, the searchers crouched behind the seat, and by a single
ray of the lantern, almost muffled under Rafe's cloak, studied
its structure. When they had put aside the growth of with-
ered vines and plants that once had flowered they found that
the back of the seat came within eighteen inches of the ground,
and into the mouldy space beneath Jock promptly thrust his
head. Lying flat on his back, he groped his hands along the
bottom and sides of the seat, but to his disappointment he
discovered no secret hiding-place, such as he had hoped to find.
"We must e'en dig for it !" he whispered ruefully.
They dug, spelling each other, for what seemed endless
hours. So narrow was the space that but one man at a time
could work, while the other masked the lantern, all but the
feeble ray that they allowed themselves, and so cramped was
the position in which the worker must delve that again and
298 THE PAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
again they changed parts. At first they labored with some
whispered encouragements, jests, even, at the impatience of
their comrades, waiting yonder in the dark and the rain, but
at last they lapsed into grim silence. Each was too stubborn
to be the first to admit defeat, yet at heart each felt the
weight of defeat press upon him.
The rain had slackened, and a chill breath of morning wind
was abroad, when both heard the clatter of a casement flung
open, right above their heads, it seemed. They crouched
close, muffling the lantern, with a prompt sense of the igno-
miny of their position, were they caught at their digging, but
they heard only a nervous female voice cry, "Who's there?
Is any one stirring?"
"My Aunt Difficult !" breathed Rafe, and Jock nudged him
in the ribs by way of assent.
They rested quiet yet a time, to give the gentlewoman
ample leisure to return to her bed, and then, as they cau-
tiously moved to resume their labor, Rafe let slip a soft-spoken
exclamation. "Candle's burnt to the hilts, Jock, and our
light is quenched."
"Let it be quenched, and a plague go with it 1" Jock whis-
pered. " I need no light to find that box."
"Nay, come away, lad," Rafe counselled, rising to his
knees. " 'Twas a fool's errand at best, but we had not slept
easy, had we not made the trial. Come away now !"
Said Jock, prone on his stomach, with his head beneath the
seat, " Go, an you will but I feel something that's hard
unto my hand."
"A rock, it well may be," Rafe answered, resolute not to
be cheated with false hope.
Jock wasted no strength in reply. In the dark, prone on
the wet ground, he grubbed with his hands, disdaining the
trowel, while Rafe, in tense silence, waited. "Have here
your rock, sir," Jock spoke at last in a muffled voice.
THE LEAGUE OF THE UNLIKELY 299
He rolled from beneath the seat, and thrust into Rafe's
hands, that groped in the dark to receive it, a little rectan-
gular object. Clay encrusted, worn though it was, Rafe could
feel the iron-bound corners and the grain of the wood on the
top and sides, and though he scarce dared credit his senses,
he suspected that in his grasp he held the lost deal box.
With scant precaution they crashed their way back through
the garden, scrambled over the wall, almost came to blows
with their sentinel, Tevery, who mistook them in the dark,
and at last rejoined their wet and bad-tempered company in
the field beyond the lane.
"Your box? Rare and pretty!" said Inchcome. "And
there's a paper within it, I find. Now when daylight comes,
we'll see if the paper contain aught that will compensate us
for this night's folly."
Wet and half frozen with the hours that he had spent in
the fields, Inchcome was bound to scoff, but when at last the
long-awaited dawn broke, watery and chill, he did not scoff.
In the dim light he looked once upon the parchment that he
took from the box, and he chuckled in grim sort, and clicked
to the cover. " Come, gentlemen," said he, " Graystones stands
near, and Mr. Heyroun has as good a right as any of the
heirs to bid his friends seek shelter beneath that roof, and
I too as chief executor under this will, do bid you thither."
Leading the horses, the nine dripping figures trailed along
the lane toward the gatehouse. Once and again as they
went, Inchcome chuckled, and Tevery and Framlingham
grew boisterous, so that when they reached the gatehouse,
they summoned the porter with a series of halloos and a thun-
dering of sword hilts on the door that roused the household.
Half because he trusted Inchcome, half because he feared
Inchcome's companions, the shaking porter opened to them,
and for the same good reasons a serving fellow flung the great
house door wide at their approach and fled before them.
300 THE FAIR MAID OF GRAYSTONES
Straight forward they went, into the cold and dimly lighted
hall, and there they found the family astir. The chestnut-
haired Philip came down the stairway with his doublet un-
fastened and his sheathed sword beneath his arm, and in the
dusky gallery beyond was Mistress Difficult, and thrust a little
before her, very lovely in the slight disorder of her hastily