Months had passed away since Richard Shelton made his escape from the hands of his guardian. These months had been eventful for England. The party of Lancaster, which was then in the very article of death, had once more raised its head. The Yorkists defeated and dispersed, their leader butchered on the field, it seemed — for a very brief season in the winter following upon the events already recorded, as if the House of Lancaster had finally triumphed over its foes.
The small town of Shoreby-on-the–Till was full of the Lancastrian nobles of the neighbourhood. Earl Risingham was there, with three hundred men-at-arms; Lord Shoreby, with two hundred; Sir Daniel himself, high in favour and once more growing rich on confiscations, lay in a house of his own, on the main street, with three-score men. The world had changed indeed.
It was a black, bitter cold evening in the first week of January, with a hard frost, a high wind, and every likelihood of snow before the morning.
In an obscure alehouse in a by-street near the harbour, three or four men sat drinking ale and eating a hasty mess of eggs. They were all likely, lusty, weather-beaten fellows, hard of hand, bold of eye; and though they wore plain tabards, like country ploughmen, even a drunken soldier might have looked twice before he sought a quarrel in such company.
A little apart before the huge fire sat a younger man, almost a boy, dressed in much the same fashion, though it was easy to see by his looks that he was better born, and might have worn a sword, had the time suited.
“Nay,” said one of the men at the table, “I like it not. Ill will come of it. This is no place for jolly fellows. A jolly fellow loveth open country, good cover, and scarce foes; but here we are shut in a town, girt about with enemies; and, for the bull’s-eye of misfortune, see if it snow not ere the morning.”
“’Tis for Master Shelton there,” said another, nodding his head towards the lad before the fire.
“I will do much for Master Shelton,” returned the first; “but to come to the gallows for any man — nay, brothers, not that!”
The door of the inn opened, and another man entered hastily and approached the youth before the fire.
“Master Shelton,” he said, “Sir Daniel goeth forth with a pair of links and four archers.”
Dick (for this was our young friend) rose instantly to his feet.
“Lawless,” he said, “ye will take John Capper’s watch. Greensheve, follow with me. Capper, lead forward. We will follow him this time, an he go to York.”
The next moment they were outside in the dark street, and Capper, the man who had just come, pointed to where two torches flared in the wind at a little distance.
The town was already sound asleep; no one moved upon the streets, and there was nothing easier than to follow the party without observation. The two link-bearers went first; next followed a single man, whose long cloak blew about him in the wind; and the rear was brought up by the four archers, each with his bow upon his arm. They moved at a brisk walk, threading the intricate lanes and drawing nearer to the shore.
“He hath gone each night in this direction?” asked Dick, in a whisper.
“This is the third night running, Master Shelton,” returned Capper, “and still at the same hour and with the same small following, as though his end were secret.”
Sir Daniel and his six men were now come to the outskirts of the country. Shoreby was an open town, and though the Lancastrian lords who lay there kept a strong guard on the main roads, it was still possible to enter or depart unseen by any of the lesser streets or across the open country.
The lane which Sir Daniel had been following came to an abrupt end. Before him there was a stretch of rough down, and the noise of the sea-surf was audible upon one hand. There were no guards in the neighbourhood, nor any light in that quarter of the town.
Dick and his two outlaws drew a little closer to the object of their chase, and presently, as they came forth from between the houses and could see a little farther upon either hand, they were aware of another torch drawing near from another direction.
“Hey,” said Dick, “I smell treason.”
Meanwhile, Sir Daniel had come to a full halt. The torches were stuck into the sand, and the men lay down, as if to await the arrival of the other party.
This drew near at a good rate. It consisted of four men only — a pair of archers, a varlet with a link, and a cloaked gentleman walking in their midst.
“Is it you, my lord?” cried Sir Daniel.
“It is I, indeed; and if ever true knight gave proof I am that man,” replied the leader of the second troop; “for who would not rather face giants, sorcerers, or pagans, than this pinching cold?”
“My lord,” returned Sir Daniel, “beauty will be the more beholden, misdoubt it not. But shall we forth? for the sooner ye have seen my merchandise, the sooner shall we both get home.”
“But why keep ye her here, good knight?” inquired the other. “An she be so young, and so fair, and so wealthy, why do ye not bring her forth among her mates? Ye would soon make her a good marriage, and no need to freeze your fingers and risk arrow-shots by going abroad at such untimely seasons in the dark.”
“I have told you, my lord,” replied Sir Daniel, “the reason thereof concerneth me only. Neither do I purpose to explain it farther. Suffice it, that if ye be weary of your old gossip, Daniel Brackley, publish it abroad that y’ are to wed Joanna Sedley, and I give you my word ye will be quit of him right soon. Ye will find him with an arrow in his back.”
Meantime the two gentlemen were walking briskly forward over the down; the three torches going before them, stooping against the wind and scattering clouds of smoke and tufts of flame, and the rear brought up by the six archers.
Close upon the heels of these, Dick followed. He had, of course, heard no word of this conversation; but he had recognised in the second of the speakers old Lord Shoreby himself, a man of an infamous reputation, whom even Sir Daniel affected, in public, to condemn.
Presently they came close down upon the beach. The air smelt salt; the noise of the surf increased; and here, in a large walled garden, there stood a small house of two storeys, with stables and other offices.
The foremost torch-bearer unlocked a door in the wall, and after the whole party had passed into the garden, again closed and locked it on the other side.
Dick and his men were thus excluded from any farther following, unless they should scale the wall and thus put their necks in a trap.
They sat down in a tuft of furze and waited. The red glow of the torches moved up and down and to and fro within the enclosure, as if the link bearers steadily patrolled the garden.
Twenty minutes passed, and then the whole party issued forth again upon the down; and Sir Daniel and the baron, after an elaborate salutation, separated and turned severally homeward, each with his own following of men and lights.
As soon as the sound of their steps had been swallowed by the wind, Dick got to his feet as briskly as he was able, for he was stiff and aching with the cold.
“Capper, ye will give me a back up,” he said.
They advanced, all three, to the wall; Capper stooped, and Dick, getting upon his shoulders, clambered on to the cope-stone.
“Now, Greensheve,” whispered Dick, “follow me up here; lie flat upon your face, that ye may be the less seen; and be ever ready to give me a hand if I fall foully on the other side.”
And so saying he dropped into the garden.
It was all pitch dark; there was no light in the house. The wind whistled shrill among the poor shrubs, and the surf beat upon the beach; there was no other sound. Cautiously Dick footed it forth, stumbling among bushes, and groping with his hands; and presently the crisp noise of gravel underfoot told him that he had struck upon an alley.
Here he paused, and taking his crossbow from where he kept it concealed under his long tabard, he prepared it for instant action, and went forward once more with greater resolution and assurance. The path led him straight to the group of buildings.
All seemed to be sorely dilapidated: the windows of the house were secured by crazy shutters; the stables were open and empty; there was no hay in the hay-loft, no corn in the corn-box. Any one would have supposed the place to be deserted. But Dick had good reason to think otherwise. He continued his inspection, visiting the offices, trying all the windows. At length he came round to the sea-side of the house, and there, sure enough, there burned a pale light in one of the upper windows.
He stepped back a little way, till he thought he could see the movement of a shadow on the wall of the apartment. Then he remembered that, in the stable, his groping hand had rested for a moment on a ladder, and he returned with all despatch to bring it. The ladder was very short, but yet, by standing on the topmost round, he could bring his hands as high as the iron bars of the window; and seizing these, he raised his body by main force until his eyes commanded the interior of the room.
Two persons were within; the first he readily knew to be Dame Hatch; the second, a tall and beautiful and grave young lady, in a long, embroidered dress — could that be Joanna Sedley? his old wood-companion, Jack, whom he had thought to punish with a belt?
He dropped back again to the top round of the ladder in a kind of amazement. He had never thought of his sweetheart as of so superior a being, and he was instantly taken with a feeling of diffidence. But he had little opportunity for thought. A low “Hist!” sounded from close by, and he hastened to descend the ladder.
“Who goes?” he whispered.
“Greensheve,” came the reply, in tones similarly guarded.
“What want ye?” asked Dick.
“The house is watched, Master Shelton,” returned the outlaw. “We are not alone to watch it; for even as I lay on my belly on the wall I saw men prowling in the dark, and heard them whistle softly one to the other.”
“By my sooth,” said Dick, “but this is passing strange! Were they not men of Sir Daniel’s?”
“Nay, sir, that they were not,” returned Greensheve; “for if I have eyes in my head, every man–Jack of them weareth me a white badge in his bonnet, something chequered with dark.”
“White, chequered with dark,” repeated Dick. “Faith, ’tis a badge I know not. It is none of this country’s badges. Well, an that be so, let us slip as quietly forth from this garden as we may; for here we are in an evil posture for defence. Beyond all question there are men of Sir Daniel’s in that house, and to be taken between two shots is a beggarman’s position. Take me this ladder; I must leave it where I found it.”
They returned the ladder to the stable, and groped their way to the place where they had entered.
Capper had taken Greensheve’s position on the cope, and now he leaned down his hand, and, first one and then the other, pulled them up.
Cautiously and silently, they dropped again upon the other side; nor did they dare to speak until they had returned to their old ambush in the gorse.
“Now, John Capper,” said Dick, “back with you to Shoreby, even as for your life. Bring me instantly what men ye can collect. Here shall be the rendezvous; or if the men be scattered and the day be near at hand before they muster, let the place be something farther back, and by the entering in of the town. Greensheve and I lie here to watch. Speed ye, John Capper, and the saints aid you to despatch. And now, Greensheve,” he continued, as soon as Capper had departed, “let thou and I go round about the garden in a wide circuit. I would fain see whether thine eyes betrayed thee.”
Keeping well outwards from the wall, and profiting by every height and hollow, they passed about two sides, beholding nothing. On the third side the garden wall was built close upon the beach, and to preserve the distance necessary to their purpose, they had to go some way down upon the sands. Although the tide was still pretty far out, the surf was so high, and the sands so flat, that at each breaker a great sheet of froth and water came careering over the expanse, and Dick and Greensheve made this part of their inspection wading, now to the ankles, and now as deep as to the knees, in the salt and icy waters of the German Ocean.
Suddenly, against the comparative whiteness of the garden wall, the figure of a man was seen, like a faint Chinese shadow, violently signalling with both arms. As he dropped again to the earth, another arose a little farther on and repeated the same performance. And so, like a silent watch word, these gesticulations made the round of the beleaguered garden.
“They keep good watch,” Dick whispered.
“Let us back to land, good master,” answered Greensheve. “We stand here too open; for, look ye, when the seas break heavy and white out there behind us, they shall see us plainly against the foam.”
“Ye speak sooth,” returned Dick. “Ashore with us, right speedily.”
Thoroughly drenched and chilled, the two adventurers returned to their position in the gorse.
“I pray Heaven that Capper make good speed!” said Dick. “I vow a candle to St. Mary of Shoreby if he come before the hour!”
“Y’ are in a hurry, Master Dick?” asked Greensheve.
“Ay, good fellow,” answered Dick; “for in that house lieth my lady, whom I love, and who should these be that lie about her secretly by night? Unfriends, for sure!”
“Well,” returned Greensheve, “an John come speedily, we shall give a good account of them. They are not two score at the outside — I judge so by the spacing of their sentries — and, taken where they are, lying so widely, one score would scatter them like sparrows. And yet, Master Dick, an she be in Sir Daniel’s power already, it will little hurt that she should change into another’s. Who should these be?”
“I do suspect the Lord of Shoreby,” Dick replied. “When came they?”
“They began to come, Master Dick,” said Greensheve, “about the time ye crossed the wall. I had not lain there the space of a minute ere I marked the first of the knaves crawling round the corner.”
The last light had been already extinguished in the little house when they were wading in the wash of the breakers, and it was impossible to predict at what moment the lurking men about the garden wall might make their onslaught. Of two evils, Dick preferred the least. He preferred that Joanna should remain under the guardianship of Sir Daniel rather than pass into the clutches of Lord Shoreby; and his mind was made up, if the house should be assaulted, to come at once to the relief of the besieged.
But the time passed, and still there was no movement. From quarter of an hour to quarter of an hour the same signal passed about the garden wall, as if the leader desired to assure himself of the vigilance of his scattered followers; but in every other particular the neighbourhood of the little house lay undisturbed.
Presently Dick’s reinforcements began to arrive. The night was not yet old before nearly a score of men crouched beside him in the gorse.
Separating these into two bodies, he took the command of the smaller himself, and entrusted the larger to the leadership of Greensheve.
“Now, Kit,” said he to this last, “take me your men to the near angle of the garden wall upon the beach. Post them strongly, and wait till that ye hear me falling on upon the other side. It is those upon the sea front that I would fain make certain of, for there will be the leader. The rest will run; even let them. And now, lads, let no man draw an arrow; ye will but hurt friends. Take to the steel, and keep to the steel; and if we have the uppermost, I promise every man of you a gold noble when I come to mine estate.”
Out of the odd collection of broken men, thieves, murderers, and ruined peasantry, whom Duckworth had gathered together to serve the purposes of his revenge, some of the boldest and the most experienced in war had volunteered to follow Richard Shelton. The service of watching Sir Daniel’s movements in the town of Shoreby had from the first been irksome to their temper, and they had of late begun to grumble loudly and threaten to disperse. The prospect of a sharp encounter and possible spoils restored them to good humour, and they joyfully prepared for battle.
Their long tabards thrown aside, they appeared, some in plain green jerkins, and some in stout leathern jacks; under their hoods many wore bonnets strengthened by iron plates; and, for offensive armour, swords, daggers, a few stout boar-spears, and a dozen of bright bills, put them in a posture to engage even regular feudal troops. The bows, quivers, and tabards were concealed among the gorse, and the two bands set resolutely forward.
Dick, when he had reached the other side of the house, posted his six men in a line, about twenty yards from the garden wall, and took position himself a few paces in front. Then they all shouted with one voice, and closed upon the enemy.
These, lying widely scattered, stiff with cold, and taken at unawares, sprang stupidly to their feet, and stood undecided. Before they had time to get their courage about them, or even to form an idea of the number and mettle of their assailants, a similar shout of onslaught sounded in their ears from the far side of the enclosure. Thereupon they gave themselves up for lost and ran.
In this way the two small troops of the men of the Black Arrow closed upon the sea front of the garden wall, and took a part of the strangers, as it were, between two fires; while the whole of the remainder ran for their lives in different directions, and were soon scattered in the darkness.
For all that, the fight was but beginning. Dick’s outlaws, although they had the advantage of the surprise, were still considerably outnumbered by the men they had surrounded. The tide had flowed, in the meanwhile; the beach was narrowed to a strip; and on this wet field, between the surf and the garden wall, there began, in the darkness, a doubtful, furious, and deadly contest.
The strangers were well armed; they fell in silence upon their assailants; and the affray became a series of single combats. Dick, who had come first into the mellay, was engaged by three; the first he cut down at the first blow, but the other two coming upon him, hotly, he was fain to give ground before their onset. One of these two was a huge fellow, almost a giant for stature, and armed with a two-handed sword, which he brandished like a switch. Against this opponent, with his reach of arm and the length and weight of his weapon, Dick and his bill were quite defenceless; and had the other continued to join vigorously in the attack, the lad must have indubitably fallen. This second man, however, less in stature and slower in his movements, paused for a moment to peer about him in the darkness, and to give ear to the sounds of the battle.
The giant still pursued his advantage, and still Dick fled before him, spying for his chance. Then the huge blade flashed and descended, and the lad, leaping on one side and running in, slashed sideways and upwards with his bill. A roar of agony responded, and, before the wounded man could raise his formidable weapon, Dick, twice repeating his blow, had brought him to the ground.
The next moment he was engaged, upon more equal terms, with his second pursuer. Here there was no great difference in size, and though the man, fighting with sword and dagger against a bill, and being wary and quick of fence, had a certain superiority of arms, Dick more than made it up by his greater agility on foot. Neither at first gained any obvious advantage; but the older man was still insensibly profiting by the ardour of the younger to lead him where he would; and presently Dick found that they had crossed the whole width of the beach, and were now fighting above the knees in the spume and bubble of the breakers. Here his own superior activity was rendered useless; he found himself more or less at the discretion of his foe; yet a little, and he had his back turned upon his own men, and saw that this adroit and skilful adversary was bent upon drawing him farther and farther away.
Dick ground his teeth. He determined to decide the combat instantly; and when the wash of the next wave had ebbed and left them dry, he rushed in, caught a blow upon his bill, and leaped right at the throat of his opponent. The man went down backwards, with Dick still upon the top of him; and the next wave, speedily succeeding to the last, buried him below a rush of water.
While he was still submerged, Dick forced his dagger from his grasp, and rose to his feet, victorious.
“Yield ye!” he said. “I give you life.”
“I yield me,” said the other, getting to his knees. “Ye fight, like a young man, ignorantly and foolhardily; but, by the array of the saints, ye fight bravely!”
Dick turned to the beach. The combat was still raging doubtfully in the night; over the hoarse roar of the breakers steel clanged upon steel, and cries of pain and the shout of battle resounded.
“Lead me to your captain, youth,” said the conquered knight. “It is fit this butchery should cease.”
“Sir,” replied Dick, “so far as these brave fellows have a captain, the poor gentleman who here addresses you is he.”
“Call off your dogs, then, and I will bid my villains hold,” returned the other.
There was something noble both in the voice and manner of his late opponent, and Dick instantly dismissed all fears of treachery.
“Lay down your arms, men!” cried the stranger knight. “I have yielded me, upon promise of life.”
The tone of the stranger was one of absolute command, and almost instantly the din and confusion of the mellay ceased.
“Lawless,” cried Dick, “are ye safe?”
“Ay,” cried Lawless, “safe and hearty.”
“Light me the lantern,” said Dick.
“Is not Sir Daniel here?” inquired the knight.
“Sir Daniel?” echoed Dick. “Now, by the rood, I pray not. It would go ill with me if he were.”
“Ill with YOU, fair sir?” inquired the other. “Nay, then, if ye be not of Sir Daniel’s party, I profess I comprehend no longer. Wherefore, then, fell ye upon mine ambush? in what quarrel, my young and very fiery friend? to what earthly purpose? and, to make a clear end of questioning, to what good gentleman have I surrendered?”
But before Dick could answer, a voice spoke in the darkness from close by. Dick could see the speaker’s black and white badge, and the respectful salute which he addressed to his superior.
“My lord,” said he, “if these gentlemen be unfriends to Sir Daniel, it is pity, indeed, we should have been at blows with them; but it were tenfold greater that either they or we should linger here. The watchers in the house — unless they be all dead or deaf — have heard our hammering this quarter-hour agone; instantly they will have signalled to the town; and unless we be the livelier in our departure, we are like to be taken, both of us, by a fresh foe.”
“Hawksley is in the right,” added the lord. “How please ye, sir? Whither shall we march?”
“Nay, my lord,” said Dick, “go where ye will for me. I do begin to suspect we have some ground of friendship, and if, indeed, I began our acquaintance somewhat ruggedly, I would not churlishly continue. Let us, then, separate, my lord, you laying your right hand in mine; and at the hour and place that ye shall name, let us encounter and agree.”
“Y’ are too trustful, boy,” said the other; “but this time your trust is not misplaced. I will meet you at the point of day at St. Bride’s Cross. Come, lads, follow!”
The strangers disappeared from the scene with a rapidity that seemed suspicious; and, while the outlaws fell to the congenial task of rifling the dead bodies, Dick made once more the circuit of the garden wall to examine the front of the house. In a little upper loophole of the roof he beheld a light set; and as it would certainly be visible in town from the back windows of Sir Daniel’s mansion, he doubted not that this was the signal feared by Hawksley, and that ere long the lances of the Knight of Tunstall would arrive upon the scene.
He put his ear to the ground, and it seemed to him as if he heard a jarring and hollow noise from townward. Back to the beach he went hurrying. But the work was already done; the last body was disarmed and stripped to the skin, and four fellows were already wading seaward to commit it to the mercies of the deep.
A few minutes later, when there debauched out of the nearest lanes of Shoreby some two score horsemen, hastily arrayed and moving at the gallop of their steeds, the neighbourhood of the house beside the sea was entirely silent and deserted.
Meanwhile, Dick and his men had returned to the ale-house of the Goat and Bagpipes to snatch some hours of sleep before the morning tryst.
St. Bride’s cross stood a little way back from Shoreby, on the skirts of Tunstall Forest. Two roads met: one, from Holywood across the forest; one, that road from Risingham down which we saw the wrecks of a Lancastrian army fleeing in disorder. Here the two joined issue, and went on together down the hill to Shoreby; and a little back from the point of junction, the summit of a little knoll was crowned by the ancient and weather-beaten cross.
Here, then, about seven in the morning, Dick arrived. It was as cold as ever; the earth was all grey and silver with the hoarfrost, and the day began to break in the east with many colours of purple and orange.
Dick set him down upon the lowest step of the cross, wrapped himself well in his tabard, and looked vigilantly upon all sides. He had not long to wait. Down the road from Holywood a gentleman in very rich and bright armour, and wearing over that a surcoat of the rarest furs, came pacing on a splendid charger. Twenty yards behind him followed a clump of lances; but these halted as soon as they came in view of the trysting-place, while the gentleman in the fur surcoat continued to advance alone.
His visor was raised, and showed a countenance of great command and dignity, answerable to the richness of his attire and arms. And it was with some confusion of manner that Dick arose from the cross and stepped down the bank to meet his prisoner.
“I thank you, my lord, for your exactitude,” he said, louting very low. “Will it please your lordship to set foot to earth?”
“Are ye here alone, young man?” inquired the other,
“I was not so simple,” answered Dick; “and, to be plain with your lordship, the woods upon either hand of this cross lie full of mine honest fellows lying on their weapons.”
“Y’ ’ave done wisely,” said the lord. “It pleaseth me the rather, since last night ye fought foolhardily, and more like a salvage Saracen lunatic than any Christian warrior. But it becomes not me to complain that had the undermost.”
“Ye had the undermost indeed, my lord, since ye so fell,” returned Dick; “but had the waves not holpen me, it was I that should have had the worst. Ye were pleased to make me yours with several dagger marks, which I still carry. And in fine, my lord, methinks I had all the danger, as well as all the profit, of that little blind-man’s mellay on the beach.”
“Y’ are shrewd enough to make light of it, I see,” returned the stranger.
“Nay, my lord, not shrewd,” replied Dick, “in that I shoot at no advantage to myself. But when, by the light of this new day, I see how stout a knight hath yielded, not to my arms alone, but to fortune, and the darkness, and the surf — and how easily the battle had gone otherwise, with a soldier so untried and rustic as myself — think it not strange, my lord, if I feel confounded with my victory.”
“Ye speak well,” said the stranger. “Your name?”
“My name, an’t like you, is Shelton,” answered Dick.
“Men call me the Lord Foxham,” added the other.
“Then, my lord, and under your good favour, ye are guardian to the sweetest maid in England,” replied Dick; “and for your ransom, and the ransom of such as were taken with you on the beach, there will be no uncertainty of terms. I pray you, my lord, of your goodwill and charity, yield me the hand of my mistress, Joan Sedley; and take ye, upon the other part, your liberty, the liberty of these your followers, and (if ye will have it) my gratitude and service till I die.”
“But are ye not ward to Sir Daniel? Methought, if y’ are Harry Shelton’s son, that I had heard it so reported,” said Lord Foxham.
“Will it please you, my lord, to alight? I would fain tell you fully who I am, how situate, and why so bold in my demands. Beseech you, my lord, take place upon these steps, hear me to a full end, and judge me with allowance.”
And so saying, Dick lent a hand to Lord Foxham to dismount; led him up the knoll to the cross; installed him in the place where he had himself been sitting; and standing respectfully before his noble prisoner, related the story of his fortunes up to the events of the evening before.
Lord Foxham listened gravely, and when Dick had done, “Master Shelton,” he said, “ye are a most fortunate-unfortunate young gentleman; but what fortune y’ ’ave had, that ye have amply merited; and what unfortune, ye have noways deserved. Be of a good cheer; for ye have made a friend who is devoid neither of power nor favour. For yourself, although it fits not for a person of your birth to herd with outlaws, I must own ye are both brave and honourable; very dangerous in battle, right courteous in peace; a youth of excellent disposition and brave bearing. For your estates, ye will never see them till the world shall change again; so long as Lancaster hath the strong hand, so long shall Sir Daniel enjoy them for his own. For my ward, it is another matter; I had promised her before to a gentleman, a kinsman of my house, one Hamley; the promise is old —”
“Ay, my lord, and now Sir Daniel hath promised her to my Lord Shoreby,” interrupted Dick. “And his promise, for all it is but young, is still the likelier to be made good.”
“’Tis the plain truth,” returned his lordship. “And considering, moreover, that I am your prisoner, upon no better composition than my bare life, and over and above that, that the maiden is unhappily in other hands, I will so far consent. Aid me with your good fellows”—
“My lord,” cried Dick, “they are these same outlaws that ye blame me for consorting with.”
“Let them be what they will, they can fight,” returned Lord Foxham. “Help me, then; and if between us we regain the maid, upon my knightly honour, she shall marry you!”
Dick bent his knee before his prisoner; but he, leaping up lightly from the cross, caught the lad up and embraced him like a son.
“Come,” he said, “an y’ are to marry Joan, we must be early friends.”
An hour thereafter, Dick was back at the Goat and Bagpipes, breaking his fast, and receiving the report of his messengers and sentries. Duckworth was still absent from Shoreby; and this was frequently the case, for he played many parts in the world, shared many different interests, and conducted many various affairs. He had founded that fellowship of the Black Arrow, as a ruined man longing for vengeance and money; and yet among those who knew him best, he was thought to be the agent and emissary of the great King-maker of England, Richard, Earl of Warwick.
In his absence, at any rate, it fell upon Richard Shelton to command affairs in Shoreby; and, as he sat at meat, his mind was full of care, and his face heavy with consideration. It had been determined, between him and the Lord Foxham, to make one bold stroke that evening, and, by brute force, to set Joanna free. The obstacles, however, were many; and as one after another of his scouts arrived, each brought him more discomfortable news.
Sir Daniel was alarmed by the skirmish of the night before. He had increased the garrison of the house in the garden; but not content with that, he had stationed horsemen in all the neighbouring lanes, so that he might have instant word of any movement. Meanwhile, in the court of his mansion, steeds stood saddled, and the riders, armed at every point, awaited but the signal to ride.
The adventure of the night appeared more and more difficult of execution, till suddenly Dick’s countenance lightened.
“Lawless!” he cried, “you that were a shipman, can ye steal me a ship?”
“Master Dick,” replied Lawless, “if ye would back me, I would agree to steal York Minster.”
Presently after, these two set forth and descended to the harbour. It was a considerable basin, lying among sand hills, and surrounded with patches of down, ancient ruinous lumber, and tumble-down slums of the town. Many decked ships and many open boats either lay there at anchor, or had been drawn up on the beach. A long duration of bad weather had driven them from the high seas into the shelter of the port; and the great trooping of black clouds, and the cold squalls that followed one another, now with a sprinkling of dry snow, now in a mere swoop of wind, promised no improvement but rather threatened a more serious storm in the immediate future.
The seamen, in view of the cold and the wind, had for the most part slunk ashore, and were now roaring and singing in the shoreside taverns. Many of the ships already rode unguarded at their anchors; and as the day wore on, and the weather offered no appearance of improvement, the number was continually being augmented. It was to these deserted ships, and, above all, to those of them that lay far out, that Lawless directed his attention; while Dick, seated upon an anchor that was half embedded in the sand, and giving ear, now to the rude, potent, and boding voices of the gale, and now to the hoarse singing of the shipmen in a neighbouring tavern, soon forgot his immediate surroundings and concerns in the agreeable recollection of Lord Foxham’s promise.
He was disturbed by a touch upon his shoulder. It was Lawless, pointing to a small ship that lay somewhat by itself, and within but a little of the harbour mouth, where it heaved regularly and smoothly on the entering swell. A pale gleam of winter sunshine fell, at that moment, on the vessel’s deck, relieving her against a bank of scowling cloud; and in this momentary glitter Dick could see a couple of men hauling the skiff alongside.
“There, sir,” said Lawless, “mark ye it well! There is the ship for to-night.”
Presently the skiff put out from the vessel’s side, and the two men, keeping her head well to the wind, pulled lustily for shore. Lawless turned to a loiterer.
“How call ye her?” he asked, pointing to the little vessel.
“They call her the Good Hope, of Dartmouth,” replied the loiterer. “Her captain, Arblaster by name. He pulleth the bow oar in yon skiff.”
This was all that Lawless wanted. Hurriedly thanking the man, he moved round the shore to a certain sandy creek, for which the skiff was heading. There he took up his position, and as soon as they were within earshot, opened fire on the sailors of the Good Hope.
“What! Gossip Arblaster!” he cried. “Why, ye be well met; nay, gossip, ye be right well met, upon the rood! And is that the Good Hope? Ay, I would know her among ten thousand! — a sweet shear, a sweet boat! But marry come up, my gossip, will ye drink? I have come into mine estate which doubtless ye remember to have heard on. I am now rich; I have left to sail upon the sea; I do sail now, for the most part, upon spiced ale. Come, fellow; thy hand upon ’t! Come, drink with an old shipfellow!”
Skipper Arblaster, a long-faced, elderly, weather-beaten man, with a knife hanging about his neck by a plaited cord, and for all the world like any modern seaman in his gait and bearing, had hung back in obvious amazement and distrust. But the name of an estate, and a certain air of tipsified simplicity and good-fellowship which Lawless very well affected, combined to conquer his suspicious jealousy; his countenance relaxed, and he at once extended his open hand and squeezed that of the outlaw in a formidable grasp.
“Nay,” he said, “I cannot mind you. But what o’ that? I would drink with any man, gossip, and so would my man Tom. Man Tom,” he added, addressing his follower, “here is my gossip, whose name I cannot mind, but no doubt a very good seaman. Let’s go drink with him and his shore friend.”
Lawless led the way, and they were soon seated in an alehouse, which, as it was very new, and stood in an exposed and solitary station, was less crowded than those nearer to the centre of the port. It was but a shed of timber, much like a blockhouse in the backwoods of to-day, and was coarsely furnished with a press or two, a number of naked benches, and boards set upon barrels to play the part of tables. In the middle, and besieged by half a hundred violent draughts, a fire of wreck-wood blazed and vomited thick smoke.
“Ay, now,” said Lawless, “here is a shipman’s joy — a good fire and a good stiff cup ashore, with foul weather without and an off-sea gale a-snoring in the roof! Here’s to the Good Hope! May she ride easy!”
“Ay,” said Skipper Arblaster, “’tis good weather to be ashore in, that is sooth. Man Tom, how say ye to that? Gossip, ye speak well, though I can never think upon your name; but ye speak very well. May the Good Hope ride easy! Amen!”
“Friend Dickon,” resumed Lawless, addressing his commander, “ye have certain matters on hand, unless I err? Well, prithee be about them incontinently. For here I be with the choice of all good company, two tough old shipmen; and till that ye return I will go warrant these brave fellows will bide here and drink me cup for cup. We are not like shore-men, we old, tough tarry–Johns!”
“It is well meant,” returned the skipper. “Ye can go, boy; for I will keep your good friend and my good gossip company till curfew — ay, and by St. Mary, till the sun get up again! For, look ye, when a man hath been long enough at sea, the salt getteth me into the clay upon his bones; and let him drink a draw-well, he will never be quenched.”
Thus encouraged upon all hands, Dick rose, saluted his company, and going forth again into the gusty afternoon, got him as speedily as he might to the Goat and Bagpipes. Thence he sent word to my Lord Foxham that, so soon as ever the evening closed, they would have a stout boat to keep the sea in. And then leading along with him a couple of outlaws who had some experience of the sea, he returned himself to the harbour and the little sandy creek.
The skiff of the Good Hope lay among many others, from which it was easily distinguished by its extreme smallness and fragility. Indeed, when Dick and his two men had taken their places, and begun to put forth out of the creek into the open harbour, the little cockle dipped into the swell and staggered under every gust of wind, like a thing upon the point of sinking.
The Good Hope, as we have said, was anchored far out, where the swell was heaviest. No other vessel lay nearer than several cables’ length; those that were the nearest were themselves entirely deserted; and as the skiff approached, a thick flurry of snow and a sudden darkening of the weather further concealed the movements of the outlaws from all possible espial. In a trice they had leaped upon the heaving deck, and the skiff was dancing at the stern. The Good Hope was captured.
She was a good stout boat, decked in the bows and amidships, but open in the stern. She carried one mast, and was rigged between a felucca and a lugger. It would seem that Skipper Arblaster had made an excellent venture, for the hold was full of pieces of French wine; and in the little cabin, besides the Virgin Mary in the bulkhead which proved the captain’s piety, there were many lockfast chests and cupboards, which showed him to be rich and careful.
A dog, who was the sole occupant of the vessel, furiously barked and bit the heels of the boarders; but he was soon kicked into the cabin, and the door shut upon his just resentment. A lamp was lit and fixed in the shrouds to mark the vessel clearly from the shore; one of the wine pieces in the hold was broached, and a cup of excellent Gascony emptied to the adventure of the evening; and then, while one of the outlaws began to get ready his bow and arrows and prepare to hold the ship against all comers, the other hauled in the skiff and got overboard, where he held on, waiting for Dick.
“Well, Jack, keep me a good watch,” said the young commander, preparing to follow his subordinate. “Ye will do right well.”
“Why,” returned Jack, “I shall do excellent well indeed, so long as we lie here; but once we put the nose of this poor ship outside the harbour — See, there she trembles! Nay, the poor shrew heard the words, and the heart misgave her in her oak-tree ribs. But look, Master Dick! how black the weather gathers!”
The darkness ahead was, indeed, astonishing. Great billows heaved up out of the blackness, one after another; and one after another the Good Hope buoyantly climbed, and giddily plunged upon the further side. A thin sprinkle of snow and thin flakes of foam came flying, and powdered the deck; and the wind harped dismally among the rigging.
“In sooth, it looketh evilly,” said Dick. “But what cheer! ’Tis but a squall, and presently it will blow over.” But, in spite of his words, he was depressingly affected by the bleak disorder of the sky and the wailing and fluting of the wind; and as he got over the side of the Good Hope and made once more for the landing-creek with the best speed of oars, he crossed himself devoutly, and recommended to Heaven the lives of all who should adventure on the sea.
At the landing-creek there had already gathered about a dozen of the outlaws. To these the skiff was left, and they were bidden embark without delay.
A little further up the beach Dick found Lord Foxham hurrying in quest of him, his face concealed with a dark hood, and his bright armour covered by a long russet mantle of a poor appearance.
“Young Shelton,” he said, “are ye for sea, then, truly?”
“My lord,” replied Richard, “they lie about the house with horsemen; it may not be reached from the land side without alarum; and Sir Daniel once advertised of our adventure, we can no more carry it to a good end than, saving your presence, we could ride upon the wind. Now, in going round by sea, we do run some peril by the elements; but, what much outweighteth all, we have a chance to make good our purpose and bear off the maid.”
“Well,” returned Lord Foxham, “lead on. I will, in some sort, follow you for shame’s sake; but I own I would I were in bed.”
“Here, then,” said Dick. “Hither we go to fetch our pilot.”
And he led the way to the rude alehouse where he had given rendezvous to a portion of his men. Some of these he found lingering round the door outside; others had pushed more boldly in, and, choosing places as near as possible to where they saw their comrade, gathered close about Lawless and the two shipmen. These, to judge by the distempered countenance and cloudy eye, had long since gone beyond the boundaries of moderation; and as Richard entered, closely followed by Lord Foxham, they were all three tuning up an old, pitiful sea-ditty, to the chorus of the wailing of the gale.
The young leader cast a rapid glance about the shed. The fire had just been replenished, and gave forth volumes of black smoke, so that it was difficult to see clearly in the further corners. It was plain, however, that the outlaws very largely outnumbered the remainder of the guests. Satisfied upon this point, in case of any failure in the operation of his plan, Dick strode up to the table and resumed his place upon the bench.
“Hey?” cried the skipper, tipsily, “who are ye, hey?”
“I want a word with you without, Master Arblaster,” returned Dick; “and here is what we shall talk of.” And he showed him a gold noble in the glimmer of the firelight.
The shipman’s eyes burned, although he still failed to recognise our hero.
“Ay, boy,” he said, “I am with you. Gossip, I will be back anon. Drink fair, gossip;” and, taking Dick’s arm to steady his uneven steps, he walked to the door of the alehouse.
As soon as he was over the threshold, ten strong arms had seized and bound him; and in two minutes more, with his limbs trussed one to another, and a good gag in his mouth, he had been tumbled neck and crop into a neighbouring hay-barn. Presently, his man Tom, similarly secured, was tossed beside him, and the pair were left to their uncouth reflections for the night.
And now, as the time for concealment had gone by, Lord Foxham’s followers were summoned by a preconcerted signal, and the party, boldly taking possession of as many boats as their numbers required, pulled in a flotilla for the light in the rigging of the ship. Long before the last man had climbed to the deck of the Good Hope, the sound of furious shouting from the shore showed that a part, at least, of the seamen had discovered the loss of their skiffs.
But it was now too late, whether for recovery or revenge. Out of some forty fighting men now mustered in the stolen ship, eight had been to sea, and could play the part of mariners. With the aid of these, a slice of sail was got upon her. The cable was cut. Lawless, vacillating on his feet, and still shouting the chorus of sea-ballads, took the long tiller in his hands: and the Good Hope began to flit forward into the darkness of the night, and to face the great waves beyond the harbour bar.
Richard took his place beside the weather rigging. Except for the ship’s own lantern, and for some lights in Shoreby town, that were already fading to leeward, the whole world of air was as black as in a pit. Only from time to time, as the Good Hope swooped dizzily down into the valley of the rollers, a crest would break — a great cataract of snowy foam would leap in one instant into being — and, in an instant more, would stream into the wake and vanish.
Many of the men lay holding on and praying aloud; many more were sick, and had crept into the bottom, where they sprawled among the cargo. And what with the extreme violence of the motion, and the continued drunken bravado of Lawless, still shouting and singing at the helm, the stoutest heart on board may have nourished a shrewd misgiving as to the result.
But Lawless, as if guided by an instinct, steered the ship across the breakers, struck the lee of a great sandbank, where they sailed for awhile in smooth water, and presently after laid her alongside a rude, stone pier, where she was hastily made fast, and lay ducking and grinding in the dark.
The pier was not far distant from the house in which Joanna lay; it now only remained to get the men on shore, to surround the house with a strong party, burst in the door and carry off the captive. They might then regard themselves as done with the Good Hope; it had placed them on the rear of their enemies; and the retreat, whether they should succeed or fail in the main enterprise, would be directed with a greater measure of hope in the direction of the forest and my Lord Foxham’s reserve.
To get the men on shore, however, was no easy task; many had been sick, all were pierced with cold; the promiscuity and disorder on board had shaken their discipline; the movement of the ship and the darkness of the night had cowed their spirits. They made a rush upon the pier; my lord, with his sword drawn on his own retainers, must throw himself in front; and this impulse of rabblement was not restrained without a certain clamour of voices, highly to be regretted in the case.
When some degree of order had been restored, Dick, with a few chosen men, set forth in advance. The darkness on shore, by contrast with the flashing of the surf, appeared before him like a solid body; and the howling and whistling of the gale drowned any lesser noise.
He had scarce reached the end of the pier, however, when there fell a lull of the wind; and in this he seemed to hear on shore the hollow footing of horses and the clash of arms. Checking his immediate followers, he passed forward a step or two alone, even setting foot upon the down; and here he made sure he could detect the shape of men and horses moving. A strong discouragement assailed him. If their enemies were really on the watch, if they had beleaguered the shoreward end of the pier, he and Lord Foxham were taken in a posture of very poor defence, the sea behind, the men jostled in the dark upon a narrow causeway. He gave a cautious whistle, the signal previously agreed upon.
It proved to be a signal far more than he desired. Instantly there fell, through the black night, a shower of arrows sent at a venture; and so close were the men huddled on the pier that more than one was hit, and the arrows were answered with cries of both fear and pain. In this first discharge, Lord Foxham was struck down; Hawksley had him carried on board again at once; and his men, during the brief remainder of the skirmish, fought (when they fought at all) without guidance. That was perhaps the chief cause of the disaster which made haste to follow.
At the shore end of the pier, for perhaps a minute, Dick held his own with a handful; one or two were wounded upon either side; steel crossed steel; nor had there been the least signal of advantage, when in the twinkling of an eye the tide turned against the party from the ship. Someone cried out that all was lost; the men were in the very humour to lend an ear to a discomfortable counsel; the cry was taken up. “On board, lads, for your lives!” cried another. A third, with the true instinct of the coward, raised that inevitable report on all retreats: “We are betrayed!” And in a moment the whole mass of men went surging and jostling backward down the pier, turning their defenceless backs on their pursuers and piercing the night with craven outcry.
One coward thrust off the ship’s stern, while another still held her by the bows. The fugitives leaped, screaming, and were hauled on board, or fell back and perished in the sea. Some were cut down upon the pier by the pursuers. Many were injured on the ship’s deck in the blind haste and terror of the moment, one man leaping upon another, and a third on both. At last, and whether by design or accident, the bows of the Good Hope were liberated; and the ever-ready Lawless, who had maintained his place at the helm through all the hurly-burly by sheer strength of body and a liberal use of the cold steel, instantly clapped her on the proper tack. The ship began to move once more forward on the stormy sea, its scuppers running blood, its deck heaped with fallen men, sprawling and struggling in the dark.
Thereupon, Lawless sheathed his dagger, and turning to his next neighbour, “I have left my mark on them, gossip,” said he, “the yelping, coward hounds.”
Now, while they were all leaping and struggling for their lives, the men had not appeared to observe the rough shoves and cutting stabs with which Lawless had held his post in the confusion. But perhaps they had already begun to understand somewhat more clearly, or perhaps another ear had overheard, the helmsman’s speech.
Panic-stricken troops recover slowly, and men who have just disgraced themselves by cowardice, as if to wipe out the memory of their fault, will sometimes run straight into the opposite extreme of insubordination. So it was now; and the same men who had thrown away their weapons and been hauled, feet foremost, into the Good Hope, began to cry out upon their leaders, and demand that someone should be punished.
This growing ill-feeling turned upon Lawless.
In order to get a proper offing, the old outlaw had put the head of the Good Hope to seaward.
“What!” bawled one of the grumblers, “he carrieth us to seaward!”
“’Tis sooth,” cried another. “Nay, we are betrayed for sure.”
And they all began to cry out in chorus that they were betrayed, and in shrill tones and with abominable oaths bade Lawless go about-ship and bring them speedily ashore. Lawless, grinding his teeth, continued in silence to steer the true course, guiding the Good Hope among the formidable billows. To their empty terrors, as to their dishonourable threats, between drink and dignity he scorned to make reply. The malcontents drew together a little abaft the mast, and it was plain they were like barnyard cocks, “crowing for courage.” Presently they would be fit for any extremity of injustice or ingratitude. Dick began to mount by the ladder, eager to interpose; but one of the outlaws, who was also something of a seaman, got beforehand.
“Lads,” he began, “y’ are right wooden heads, I think. For to get back, by the mass, we must have an offing, must we not? And this old Lawless —”
Someone struck the speaker on the mouth, and the next moment, as a fire springs among dry straw, he was felled upon the deck, trampled under the feet, and despatched by the daggers of his cowardly companions. At this the wrath of Lawless rose and broke.
“Steer yourselves,” he bellowed, with a curse; and, careless of the result, he left the helm.
The Good Hope was, at that moment, trembling on the summit of a swell. She subsided, with sickening velocity, upon the farther side. A wave, like a great black bulwark, hove immediately in front of her; and, with a staggering blow, she plunged headforemost through that liquid hill. The green water passed right over her from stem to stern, as high as a man’s knees; the sprays ran higher than the mast; and she rose again upon the other side, with an appalling, tremulous indecision, like a beast that has been deadly wounded.
Six or seven of the malcontents had been carried bodily overboard; and as for the remainder, when they found their tongues again, it was to bellow to the saints and wail upon Lawless to come back and take the tiller.
Nor did Lawless wait to be twice bidden. The terrible result of his fling of just resentment sobered him completely. He knew, better than any one on board, how nearly the Good Hope had gone bodily down below their feet; and he could tell, by the laziness with which she met the sea, that the peril was by no means over.
Dick, who had been thrown down by the concussion and half drowned, rose wading to his knees in the swamped well of the stern, and crept to the old helmsman’s side.
“Lawless,” he said, “we do all depend on you; y’ are a brave, steady man, indeed, and crafty in the management of ships; I shall put three sure men to watch upon your safety.”
“Bootless, my master, bootless,” said the steersman, peering forward through the dark. “We come every moment somewhat clearer of these sandbanks; with every moment, then, the sea packeth upon us heavier, and for all these whimperers, they will presently be on their backs. For, my master, ’tis a right mystery, but true, there never yet was a bad man that was a good shipman. None but the honest and the bold can endure me this tossing of a ship.”
“Nay, Lawless,” said Dick, laughing, “that is a right shipman’s byword, and hath no more of sense than the whistle of the wind. But, prithee, how go we? Do we lie well? Are we in good case?”
“Master Shelton,” replied Lawless, “I have been a Grey Friar — I praise fortune — an archer, a thief, and a shipman. Of all these coats, I had the best fancy to die in the Grey Friar’s, as ye may readily conceive, and the least fancy to die in John Shipman’s tarry jacket; and that for two excellent good reasons: first, that the death might take a man suddenly; and second, for the horror of that great, salt smother and welter under my foot here”— and Lawless stamped with his foot. “Howbeit,” he went on, “an I die not a sailor’s death, and that this night, I shall owe a tall candle to our Lady.”
“Is it so?” asked Dick.
“It is right so,” replied the outlaw. “Do ye not feel how heavy and dull she moves upon the waves? Do ye not hear the water washing in her hold? She will scarce mind the rudder even now. Bide till she has settled a bit lower; and she will either go down below your boots like a stone image, or drive ashore here, under our lee, and come all to pieces like a twist of string.”
“Ye speak with a good courage,” returned Dick. “Ye are not then appalled?”
“Why, master,” answered Lawless, “if ever a man had an ill crew to come to port with, it is I— a renegade friar, a thief, and all the rest on’t. Well, ye may wonder, but I keep a good hope in my wallet; and if that I be to drown, I will drown with a bright eye, Master Shelton, and a steady hand.”
Dick returned no answer; but he was surprised to find the old vagabond of so resolute a temper, and fearing some fresh violence or treachery, set forth upon his quest for three sure men. The great bulk of the men had now deserted the deck, which was continually wetted with the flying sprays, and where they lay exposed to the shrewdness of the winter wind. They had gathered, instead, into the hold of the merchandise, among the butts of wine, and lighted by two swinging lanterns.
Here a few kept up the form of revelry, and toasted each other deep in Arblaster’s Gascony wine. But as the Good Hope continued to tear through the smoking waves, and toss her stem and stern alternately high in air and deep into white foam, the number of these jolly companions diminished with every moment and with every lurch. Many sat apart, tending their hurts, but the majority were already prostrated with sickness, and lay moaning in the bilge.
Greensheve, Cuckow, and a young fellow of Lord Foxham’s whom Dick had already remarked for his intelligence and spirit, were still, however, both fit to understand and willing to obey. These Dick set, as a body-guard, about the person of the steersman, and then, with a last look at the black sky and sea, he turned and went below into the cabin, whither Lord Foxham had been carried by his servants.
The moans of the wounded baron blended with the wailing of the ship’s dog. The poor animal, whether he was merely sick at heart to be separated from his friends, or whether he indeed recognised some peril in the labouring of the ship, raised his cries, like minute-guns, above the roar of wave and weather; and the more superstitious of the men heard, in these sounds, the knell of the Good Hope.
Lord Foxham had been laid in a berth upon a fur cloak. A little lamp burned dim before the Virgin in the bulkhead, and by its glimmer Dick could see the pale countenance and hollow eyes of the hurt man.
“I am sore hurt,” said he. “Come near to my side, young Shelton; let there be one by me who, at least, is gentle born; for after having lived nobly and richly all the days of my life, this is a sad pass that I should get my hurt in a little ferreting skirmish, and die here, in a foul, cold ship upon the sea, among broken men and churls.”
“Nay, my lord,” said Dick, “I pray rather to the saints that ye will recover you of your hurt, and come soon and sound ashore.”
“How!” demanded his lordship. “Come sound ashore? There is, then, a question of it?”
“The ship laboureth — the sea is grievous and contrary,” replied the lad; “and by what I can learn of my fellow that steereth us, we shall do well, indeed, if we come dryshod to land.”
“Ha!” said the baron, gloomily, “thus shall every terror attend upon the passage of my soul! Sir, pray rather to live hard, that ye may die easy, than to be fooled and fluted all through life, as to the pipe and tabor, and, in the last hour, be plunged among misfortunes! Howbeit, I have that upon my mind that must not be delayed. We have no priest aboard?”
“None,” replied Dick.
“Here, then, to my secular interests,” resumed Lord Foxham: “ye must be as good a friend to me dead, as I found you a gallant enemy when I was living. I fall in an evil hour for me, for England, and for them that trusted me. My men are being brought by Hamley — he that was your rival; they will rendezvous in the long holm at Holywood; this ring from off my finger will accredit you to represent mine orders; and I shall write, besides, two words upon this paper, bidding Hamley yield to you the damsel. Will he obey? I know not.”
“But, my lord, what orders?” inquired Dick.
“Ay,” quoth the baron, “ay — the orders;” and he looked upon Dick with hesitation. “Are ye Lancaster or York?” he asked, at length.
“I shame to say it,” answered Dick, “I can scarce clearly answer. But so much I think is certain: since I serve with Ellis Duckworth, I serve the house of York. Well, if that be so, I declare for York.”
“It is well,” returned the other; “it is exceeding well. For, truly, had ye said Lancaster, I wot not for the world what I had done. But sith ye are for York, follow me. I came hither but to watch these lords at Shoreby, while mine excellent young lord, Richard of Gloucester, 1 prepareth a sufficient force to fall upon and scatter them. I have made me notes of their strength, what watch they keep, and how they lie; and these I was to deliver to my young lord on Sunday, an hour before noon, at St. Bride’s Cross beside the forest. This tryst I am not like to keep, but I pray you, of courtesy, to keep it in my stead; and see that not pleasure, nor pain, tempest, wound, nor pestilence withhold you from the hour and place, for the welfare of England lieth upon this cast.”
“I do soberly take this up on me,” said Dick. “In so far as in me lieth, your purpose shall be done.”
“It is good,” said the wounded man. “My lord duke shall order you farther, and if ye obey him with spirit and good will, then is your fortune made. Give me the lamp a little nearer to mine eyes, till that I write these words for you.”
He wrote a note “to his worshipful kinsman, Sir John Hamley;” and then a second, which he-left without external superscripture.
“This is for the duke,” he said. “The word is ‘England and Edward,’ and the counter, ‘England and York.’”
“And Joanna, my lord?” asked Dick.
“Nay, ye must get Joanna how ye can,” replied the baron. “I have named you for my choice in both these letters; but ye must get her for yourself, boy. I have tried, as ye see here before you, and have lost my life. More could no man do.”
By this time the wounded man began to be very weary; and Dick, putting the precious papers in his bosom, bade him be of good cheer, and left him to repose.
The day was beginning to break, cold and blue, with flying squalls of snow. Close under the lee of the Good Hope, the coast lay in alternate rocky headlands and sandy bays; and further inland the wooded hill-tops of Tunstall showed along the sky. Both the wind and the sea had gone down; but the vessel wallowed deep, and scarce rose upon the waves.
Lawless was still fixed at the rudder; and by this time nearly all the men had crawled on deck, and were now gazing, with blank faces, upon the inhospitable coast.
“Are we going ashore?” asked Dick.
“Ay,” said Lawless, “unless we get first to the bottom.”
And just then the ship rose so languidly to meet a sea, and the water weltered so loudly in her hold, that Dick involuntarily seized the steersman by the arm.
“By the mass!” cried Dick, as the bows of the Good Hope reappeared above the foam, “I thought we had foundered, indeed; my heart was at my throat.”
In the waist, Greensheve, Hawksley, and the better men of both companies were busy breaking up the deck to build a raft; and to these Dick joined himself, working the harder to drown the memory of his predicament. But, even as he worked, every sea that struck the poor ship, and every one of her dull lurches, as she tumbled wallowing among the waves, recalled him with a horrid pang to the immediate proximity of death.
Presently, looking up from his work, he saw that they were close in below a promontory; a piece of ruinous cliff, against the base of which the sea broke white and heavy, almost overplumbed the deck; and, above that, again, a house appeared, crowning a down.
Inside the bay the seas ran gayly, raised the Good Hope upon their foam-flecked shoulders, carried her beyond the control of the steersman, and in a moment dropped her, with a great concussion, on the sand, and began to break over her half-mast high, and roll her to and fro. Another great wave followed, raised her again, and carried her yet farther in; and then a third succeeded, and left her far inshore of the more dangerous breakers, wedged upon a bank.
“Now, boys,” cried Lawless, “the saints have had a care of us, indeed. The tide ebbs; let us but sit down and drink a cup of wine, and before half an hour ye may all march me ashore as safe as on a bridge.”
A barrel was broached, and, sitting in what shelter they could find from the flying snow and spray, the shipwrecked company handed the cup around, and sought to warm their bodies and restore their spirits.
Dick, meanwhile, returned to Lord Foxham, who lay in great perplexity and fear, the floor of his cabin washing knee-deep in water, and the lamp, which had been his only light, broken and extinguished by the violence of the blow.
“My lord,” said young Shelton, “fear not at all; the saints are plainly for us; the seas have cast us high upon a shoal, and as soon as the tide hath somewhat ebbed, we may walk ashore upon our feet.”
It was nearly an hour before the vessel was sufficiently deserted by the ebbing sea; and they could set forth for the land, which appeared dimly before them through a veil of driving snow.
Upon a hillock on one side of their way a party of men lay huddled together, suspiciously observing the movements of the new arrivals.
“They might draw near and offer us some comfort,” Dick remarked.
“Well, an’ they come not to us, let us even turn aside to them,” said Hawksley. “The sooner we come to a good fire and a dry bed the better for my poor lord.”
But they had not moved far in the direction of the hillock, before the men, with one consent, rose suddenly to their feet, and poured a flight of well-directed arrows on the shipwrecked company.
“Back! back!” cried his lordship. “Beware, in Heaven’s name, that ye reply not.”
“Nay,” cried Greensheve, pulling an arrow from his leather jack. “We are in no posture to fight, it is certain, being drenching wet, dog-weary, and three-parts frozen; but, for the love of old England, what aileth them to shoot thus cruelly on their poor country people in distress?”
“They take us to be French pirates,” answered Lord Foxham. “In these most troublesome and degenerate days we cannot keep our own shores of England; but our old enemies, whom we once chased on sea and land, do now range at pleasure, robbing and slaughtering and burning. It is the pity and reproach of this poor land.”
The men upon the hillock lay, closely observing them, while they trailed upward from the beach and wound inland among desolate sand-hills; for a mile or so they even hung upon the rear of the march, ready, at a sign, to pour another volley on the weary and dispirited fugitives; and it was only when, striking at length upon a firm high-road, Dick began to call his men to some more martial order, that these jealous guardians of the coast of England silently disappeared among the snow. They had done what they desired; they had protected their own homes and farms, their own families and cattle; and their private interest being thus secured, it mattered not the weight of a straw to any one of them, although the Frenchmen should carry blood and fire to every other parish in the realm of England.
1 At the date of this story, Richard Crookback could not have been created Duke of Gloucester; but for clearness, with the reader’s leave, he shall so be called.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13