Treading softly, and with ears straining for the slightest sound, the two men descended to the first floor of the house. They heard nothing to alarm them as they crept down, and not until they paused on the first landing to reconnoitre did they even catch the murmur of voices issuing from the guardroom below. So muffled was the sound that Crispin guessed how matters stood even before he had looked over the balusters into the hall beneath. The faint grey of the dawn was the only light that penetrated the gloom of that pit.

“The Fates are kind, Kenneth,” he whispered. “Those fools sit with closed doors. Come.”

But Kenneth laid his hand upon Galliard's sleeve. “What if the door should open as we pass?”

“Someone will die,” muttered Crispin back. “But pray God that it may not. We must run the risk.”

“Is there no other way?”

“Why, yes,” returned Galliard sardonically, “we can linger here until we are taken. But, oddslife, I'm not so minded. Come.”

And as he spoke he drew the lad along.

His foot was upon the topmost stair of the flight, when of a sudden the stillness of the house was broken by a loud knock upon the street door. Instantly—as though they had been awaiting it there was a stir of feet below and the bang of an overturned chair; then a shaft of yellow light fell athwart the darkness of the hall as the guardroom door was opened.

“Back!” growled Galliard. “Back, man!”

They were but in time. Peering over the balusters they saw two troopers pass out of the guardroom, and cross the hall to the door. A bolt was drawn and a chain rattled, then followed the creak of hinges, and on the stone flags rang the footsteps and the jingling of spurs of those that entered.

“Is all well?” came a voice, which Crispin recognized as Colonel Pride's, followed by an affirmative reply from one of the soldiers.

“Hath a minister visited the malignants?”

“Master Toneleigh is with them even now.”

In the hall Crispin could now make out the figures of Colonel Pride and of three men who came with him. But he had scant leisure to survey them, for the colonel was in haste.

“Come, sirs,” he heard him say, “light me to their garret. I would see them—leastways, one of them, before he dies. They are to hang where the Moabites hanged Gives yesterday. Had I my way... But, there lead on, fellow.”

“Oh, God!” gasped Kenneth, as the soldier set foot upon the stairs. Under his breath Crispin swore a terrific oath. For an instant it seemed to him there was naught left but to stand there and await recapture. Through his mind it flashed that they were five, and he but one; for his companion was unarmed.

With that swiftness which thought alone can compass did he weigh the odds, and judge his chances. He realized how desperate they were did he remain, and even as he thought he glanced sharply round.

Dim indeed was the light, but his sight was keen, and quickened by the imminence of danger. Partly his eyes and partly his instinct told him that not six paces behind him there must be a door, and if Heaven pleased it should be unlocked, behind it they must look for shelter. It even crossed his mind in that second of crowding, galloping thought, that perchance the room might be occupied. That was a risk he must take—the lesser risk of the two, the choice of one of which was forced upon him. He had determined all this ere the soldier's foot was upon the third step of the staircase, and before the colonel had commenced the ascent. Kenneth stood palsied with fear, gazing like one fascinated at the approaching peril.

Then upon his ear fell the fierce whisper: “Come with me, and tread lightly as you love your life.”

In three long strides, and by steps that were softer than a cat's, Crispin crossed to the door which he had rather guessed than seen. He ran his hand along until he caught the latch. Softly he tried it; it gave, and the door opened. Kenneth was by then beside him. He paused to look back.

On the opposite wall the light of the trooper's lanthorn fell brightly. Another moment and the fellow would have reached and turned the corner of the stairs, and his light must reveal them to him. But ere that instant was passed Crispin had drawn his companion through, and closed the door as softly as he had opened it. The chamber was untenanted and almost bare of furniture, at which discovery Crispin breathed more freely.

They stood there, and heard the ascending footsteps, and the clank-clank of a sword against the stair-rail. A bar of yellow light came under the door that sheltered them. Stronger it grew and farther it crept along the floor; then stopped and receded again, as he who bore the lanthorn turned and began to climb to the second floor. An instant later and the light had vanished, eclipsed by those who followed in the fellow's wake.

“The window, Sir Crispin,” cried Kenneth, in an excited whisper—“the window!”

“No,” answered Crispin calmly. “The drop is a long one, and we should but light in the streets, and be little better than we are here. Wait.”

He listened. The footsteps had turned the corner leading to the floor above. He opened the door, partly at first, then wide. For an instant he stood listening again. The steps were well overhead by now; soon they would mount the last flight, and then discovery must be swift to follow.

“Now,” was all Crispin said, and, drawing his sword he led the way swiftly, yet cautiously, to the stairs once more. In passing he glanced over the rails. The guardroom door stood ajar, and he caught the murmurs of subdued conversation. But he did not pause. Had the door stood wide he would not have paused then. There was not a second to be lost; to wait was to increase the already overwhelming danger. Cautiously, and leaning well upon the stout baluster, he began the descent. Kenneth followed him mechanically, with white face and a feeling of suffocation in his throat.

They gained the corner, and turning, they began what was truly the perilous part of their journey. Not more than a dozen steps were there; but at the bottom stood the guardroom door, and through the chink of its opening a shaft of light fell upon the nethermost step. Once a stair creaked, and to their quickened senses it sounded like a pistol-shot. As loud to Crispin sounded the indrawn breath of apprehension from Kenneth that followed it. He had almost paused to curse the lad when, thinking him of how time pressed, he went on.

Within three steps of the bottom were they, and they could almost distinguish what was being said in the room, when Crispin stopped, and turning his head to attract Kenneth's attention, he pointed straight across the hall to a dimly visible door. It was that of the chamber wherein he had been brought before Cromwell. Its position had occurred to him some moments before, and he had determined then upon going that way.

The lad followed the indication of his finger, and signified by a nod that he understood. Another step Galliard descended; then from the guardroom came a loud yawn, to send the boy cowering against the wall. It was followed by the sound of someone rising; a chair grated upon the floor, and there was a movement of feet within the chamber. Had Kenneth been alone, of a certainty terror would have frozen him to the wall.

But the calm, unmovable Crispin proceeded as if naught had chanced; he argued that even if he who had risen were coming towards the door, there was nothing to be gained by standing still. Their only chance lay now in passing before it might be opened.

They that walk through perils in a brave man's company cannot but gain confidence from the calm of his demeanour. So was it now with Kenneth. The steady onward march of that tall, lank figure before him drew him irresistibly after it despite his tremors. And well it was for him that this was so. They gained the bottom of the staircase at length; they stood beside the door of the guardroom, they passed it in safety. Then slowly—painfully slowly—to avoid their steps from ringing upon the stone floor, they crept across towards the door that meant safety to Sir Crispin. Slowly, step by step, they moved, and with every stride Crispin looked behind him, prepared to rush the moment he had sign they were discovered. But it was not needed. In silence and in safety they were permitted to reach the door. To Crispin's joy it was unfastened. Quietly he opened it, then with calm gallantry he motioned to his companion to go first, holding it for him as he passed in, and keeping watch with eye and ear the while.

Scarce had Kenneth entered the chamber when from above came the sound of loud and excited voices, announcing to them that their flight was at last discovered. It was responded to by a rush of feet in the guardroom, and Crispin had but time to dart in after his companion and close the door ere the troopers poured out into the hall and up the stairs, with confused shouts that something must be amiss.

Within the room that sheltered him Crispin chuckled, as he ran his hand along the edge of the door until he found the bolt, and softly shot it home.

“'Slife,” he muttered, “'twas a close thing! Aye, shout, you cuckolds,” he went on. “Yell yourselves hoarse as the crows you are! You'll hang us where Gives are hanged, will you?”

Kenneth tugged at the skirts of his doublet. “What now?” he inquired.

“Now,” said Crispin, “we'll leave by the window, if it please you.”

They crossed the room, and a moment or two later they had dropped on to the narrow railed pathway overlooking the river, which Crispin had observed from their prison window the evening before. He had observed, too, that a small boat was moored at some steps about a hundred yards farther down the stream, and towards that spot he now sped along the footpath, followed closely by Kenneth. The path sloped in that direction, so that by the time the spot was reached the water flowed not more than six feet or so beneath them. Half a dozen steps took them down this to the moorings of that boat, which fortunately had not been removed.

“Get in, Kenneth,” Crispin commanded. “There, I'll take the oars, and I'll keep under shelter of the bank lest those blunderers should bethink them of looking out of our prison window. Oddswounds, Kenneth, I am hungry as a wolf, and as dry—ough, as dry as Dives when he begged for a sup of water. Heaven send we come upon some good malignant homestead ere we go far, where a Christian may find a meal and a stoup of ale. 'Tis a miracle I had strength enough to crawl downstairs. Swounds, but an empty stomach is a craven comrade in a desperate enterprise. Hey! Have a care, boy. Now, sink me if this milksop hasn't fainted!”

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