Very early the next morning, before the first peep of the day, Dick arose, changed his garments, armed himself once more like a gentleman, and set forth for Lawless’s den in the forest. There, it will be remembered, he had left Lord Foxham’s papers; and to get these and be back in time for the tryst with the young Duke of Gloucester could only be managed by an early start and the most vigorous walking.
The frost was more rigorous than ever; the air windless and dry, and stinging to the nostril. The moon had gone down, but the stars were still bright and numerous, and the reflection from the snow was clear and cheerful. There was no need for a lamp to walk by; nor, in that still but ringing air, the least temptation to delay.
Dick had crossed the greater part of the open ground between Shoreby and the forest, and had reached the bottom of the little hill, some hundred yards below the Cross of St. Bride, when, through the stillness of the black morn, there rang forth the note of a trumpet, so shrill, clear, and piercing, that he thought he had never heard the match of it for audibility. It was blown once, and then hurriedly a second time; and then the clash of steel succeeded.
At this young Shelton pricked his ears, and drawing his sword, ran forward up the hill.
Presently he came in sight of the cross, and was aware of a most fierce encounter raging on the road before it. There were seven or eight assailants, and but one to keep head against them; but so active and dexterous was this one, so desperately did he charge and scatter his opponents, so deftly keep his footing on the ice, that already, before Dick could intervene, he had slain one, wounded another, and kept the whole in check.
Still, it was by a miracle that he continued his defence, and at any moment, any accident, the least slip of foot or error of hand, his life would be a forfeit.
“Hold ye well, sir! Here is help!” cried Richard; and forgetting that he was alone, and that the cry was somewhat irregular, “To the Arrow! to the Arrow!” he shouted, as he fell upon the rear of the assailants.
These were stout fellows also, for they gave not an inch at this surprise, but faced about, and fell with astonishing fury upon Dick. Four against one, the steel flashed about him in the starlight; the sparks flew fiercely; one of the men opposed to him fell — in the stir of the fight he hardly knew why; then he himself was struck across the head, and though the steel cap below his hood protected him, the blow beat him down upon one knee, with a brain whirling like a windmill sail.
Meanwhile the man whom he had come to rescue, instead of joining in the conflict, had, on the first sign of intervention, leaped aback and blown again, and yet more urgently and loudly, on that same shrill-voiced trumpet that began the alarm. Next moment, indeed, his foes were on him, and he was once more charging and fleeing, leaping, stabbing, dropping to his knee, and using indifferently sword and dagger, foot and hand, with the same unshaken courage and feverish energy and speed.
But that ear-piercing summons had been heard at last. There was a muffled rushing in the snow; and in a good hour for Dick, who saw the sword-points glitter already at his throat, there poured forth out of the wood upon both sides a disorderly torrent of mounted men-at-arms, each cased in iron, and with visor lowered, each bearing his lance in rest, or his sword bared and raised, and each carrying, so to speak, a passenger, in the shape of an archer or page, who leaped one after another from their perches, and had presently doubled the array.
The original assailants; seeing themselves outnumbered and surrounded, threw down their arms without a word.
“Seize me these fellows!” said the hero of the trumpet; and when his order had been obeyed, he drew near to Dick and looked him in the face.
Dick, returning this scrutiny, was surprised to find in one who had displayed such strength, skill and energy, a lad no older than himself — slightly deformed, with one shoulder higher than the other, and of a pale, painful, and distorted countenance. 2 The eyes, however, were very clear and bold.
“Sir,” said this lad, “ye came in good time for me, and none too early.”
“My lord,” returned Dick, with a faint sense that he was in the presence of a great personage, “ye are yourself so marvellous a good swordsman that I believe ye had managed them single-handed. Howbeit, it was certainly well for me that your men delayed no longer than they did.”
“How knew ye who I was?” demanded the stranger.
“Even now, my lord,” Dick answered, “I am ignorant of whom I speak with.”
“Is it so?” asked the other. “And yet ye threw yourself head first into this unequal battle.”
“I saw one man valiantly contending against many,” replied Dick, “and I had thought myself dishonoured not to bear him aid.”
A singular sneer played about the young nobleman’s mouth as he made answer:
“These are very brave words. But to the more essential — are ye Lancaster or York?”
“My lord, I make no secret; I am clear for York,” Dick answered.
“By the mass!” replied the other, “it is well for you.”
And so saying, he turned towards one of his followers.
“Let me see,” he continued, in the same sneering and cruel tones —“let me see a clean end of these brave gentlemen. Truss me them up.”
There were but five survivors of the attacking party. Archers seized them by the arms; they were hurried to the borders of the wood, and each placed below a tree of suitable dimension; the rope was adjusted; an archer, carrying the end of it, hastily clambered overhead; and before a minute was over, and without a word passing upon either hand, the five men were swinging by the neck.
“And now,” cried the deformed leader, “back to your posts, and when I summon you next, be readier to attend.”
“My lord duke,” said one man, “beseech you, tarry not here alone. Keep but a handful of lances at your hand.”
“Fellow,” said the duke, “I have forborne to chide you for your slowness. Cross me not, therefore. I trust my hand and arm, for all that I be crooked. Ye were backward when the trumpet sounded; and ye are now too forward with your counsels. But it is ever so; last with the lance and first with tongue. Let it be reversed.”
And with a gesture that was not without a sort of dangerous nobility, he waved them off.
The footmen climbed again to their seats behind the men-at-arms, and the whole party moved slowly away and disappeared in twenty different directions, under the cover of the forest.
The day was by this time beginning to break, and the stars to fade. The first grey glimmer of dawn shone upon the countenances of the two young men, who now turned once more to face each other.
“Here,” said the duke, “ye have seen my vengeance, which is, like my blade, both sharp and ready. But I would not have you, for all Christendom, suppose me thankless. You that came to my aid with a good sword and a better courage — unless that ye recoil from my misshapenness — come to my heart.”
And so saying, the young leader held out his arms for an embrace.
In the bottom of his heart Dick already entertained a great terror and some hatred for the man whom he had rescued; but the invitation was so worded that it would not have been merely discourteous, but cruel, to refuse or hesitate; and he hastened to comply.
“And now, my lord duke,” he said, when he had regained his freedom, “do I suppose aright? Are ye my Lord Duke of Gloucester?”
“I am Richard of Gloucester,” returned the other. “And you — how call they you?”
Dick told him his name, and presented Lord Foxham’s signet, which the duke immediately recognised.
“Ye come too soon,” he said; “but why should I complain? Ye are like me, that was here at watch two hours before the day. But this is the first sally of mine arms; upon this adventure, Master Shelton, shall I make or mar the quality of my renown. There lie mine enemies, under two old, skilled captains — Risingham and Brackley — well posted for strength, I do believe, but yet upon two sides without retreat, enclosed betwixt the sea, the harbour, and the river. Methinks, Shelton, here were a great blow to be stricken, an we could strike it silently and suddenly.”
“I do think so, indeed,” cried Dick, warming.
“Have ye my Lord Foxham’s notes?” inquired the duke.
And then, Dick, having explained how he was without them for the moment, made himself bold to offer information every jot as good, of his own knowledge. “And for mine own part, my lord duke,” he added, “an ye had men enough, I would fall on even at this present. For, look ye, at the peep of day the watches of the night are over; but by day they keep neither watch nor ward — only scour the outskirts with horsemen. Now, then, when the night watch is already unarmed, and the rest are at their morning cup — now were the time to break them.”
“How many do ye count?” asked Gloucester.
“They number not two thousand,” Dick replied.
“I have seven hundred in the woods behind us,” said the duke; “seven hundred follow from Kettley, and will be here anon; behind these, and further, are four hundred more; and my Lord Foxham hath five hundred half a day from here, at Holywood. Shall we attend their coming, or fall on?”
“My lord,” said Dick, “when ye hanged these five poor rogues ye did decide the question. Churls although they were, in these uneasy, times they will be lacked and looked for, and the alarm be given. Therefore, my lord, if ye do count upon the advantage of a surprise, ye have not, in my poor opinion, one whole hour in front of you.”
“I do think so indeed,” returned Crookback. “Well, before an hour, ye shall be in the thick on’t, winning spurs. A swift man to Holywood, carrying Lord Foxham’s signet; another along the road to speed my laggards! Nay, Shelton, by the rood, it may be done!”
Therewith he once more set his trumpet to his lips and blew.
This time he was not long kept waiting. In a moment the open space about the cross was filled with horse and foot. Richard of Gloucester took his place upon the steps, and despatched messenger after messenger to hasten the concentration of the seven hundred men that lay hidden in the immediate neighbourhood among the woods; and before a quarter of an hour had passed, all his dispositions being taken, he put himself at their head, and began to move down the hill towards Shoreby.
His plan was simple. He was to seize a quarter of the town of Shoreby lying on the right hand of the high road, and make his position good there in the narrow lanes until his reinforcements followed.
If Lord Risingham chose to retreat, Richard would follow upon his rear, and take him between two fires; or, if he preferred to hold the town, he would be shut in a trap, there to be gradually overwhelmed by force of numbers.
There was but one danger, but that was imminent and great — Gloucester’s seven hundred might be rolled up and cut to pieces in the first encounter, and, to avoid this, it was needful to make the surprise of their arrival as complete as possible.
The footmen, therefore, were all once more taken up behind the riders, and Dick had the signal honour meted out to him of mounting behind Gloucester himself. For as far as there was any cover the troops moved slowly, and when they came near the end of the trees that lined the highway, stopped to breathe and reconnoitre.
The sun was now well up, shining with a frosty brightness out of a yellow halo, and right over against the luminary, Shoreby, a field of snowy roofs and ruddy gables, was rolling up its columns of morning smoke. Gloucester turned round to Dick.
“In that poor place,” he said, “where people are cooking breakfast, either you shall gain your spurs and I begin a life of mighty honour and glory in the world’s eye, or both of us, as I conceive it, shall fall dead and be unheard of. Two Richards are we. Well, then, Richard Shelton, they shall be heard about, these two! Their swords shall not ring more loudly on men’s helmets than their names shall ring in people’s ears.”
Dick was astonished at so great a hunger after fame, expressed with so great vehemence of voice and language, and he answered very sensibly and quietly, that, for his part, he promised he would do his duty, and doubted not of victory if everyone did the like.
By this time the horses were well breathed, and the leader holding up his sword and giving rein, the whole troop of chargers broke into the gallop and thundered, with their double load of fighting men, down the remainder of the hill and across the snow-covered plain that still divided them from Shoreby.
The whole distance to be crossed was not above a quarter of a mile. But they had no sooner debauched beyond the cover of the trees than they were aware of people fleeing and screaming in the snowy meadows upon either hand. Almost at the same moment a great rumour began to arise, and spread and grow continually louder in the town; and they were not yet halfway to the nearest house before the bells began to ring backward from the steeple.
The young duke ground his teeth together. By these so early signals of alarm he feared to find his enemies prepared; and if he failed to gain a footing in the town, he knew that his small party would soon be broken and exterminated in the open.
In the town, however, the Lancastrians were far from being in so good a posture. It was as Dick had said. The night-guard had already doffed their harness; the rest were still hanging — unlatched, unbraced, all unprepared for battle — about their quarters; and in the whole of Shoreby there were not, perhaps, fifty men full armed, or fifty chargers ready to be mounted.
The beating of the bells, the terrifying summons of men who ran about the streets crying and beating upon the doors, aroused in an incredibly short space at least two score out of that half hundred. These got speedily to horse, and, the alarm still flying wild and contrary, galloped in different directions.
Thus it befell that, when Richard of Gloucester reached the first house of Shoreby, he was met in the mouth of the street by a mere handful of lances, whom he swept before his onset as the storm chases the bark.
A hundred paces into the town, Dick Shelton touched the duke’s arm; the duke, in answer, gathered his reins, put the shrill trumpet to his mouth, and blowing a concerted point, turned to the right hand out of the direct advance. Swerving like a single rider, his whole command turned after him, and, still at the full gallop of the chargers, swept up the narrow bye-street. Only the last score of riders drew rein and faced about in the entrance; the footmen, whom they carried behind them, leapt at the same instant to the earth, and began, some to bend their bows, and others to break into and secure the houses upon either hand.
Surprised at this sudden change of direction, and daunted by the firm front of the rear-guard, the few Lancastrians, after a momentary consultation, turned and rode farther into town to seek for reinforcements.
The quarter of the town upon which, by the advice of Dick, Richard of Gloucester had now seized, consisted of five small streets of poor and ill-inhabited houses, occupying a very gentle eminence, and lying open towards the back.
The five streets being each secured by a good guard, the reserve would thus occupy the centre, out of shot, and yet ready to carry aid wherever it was needed.
Such was the poorness of the neighbourhood that none of the Lancastrian lords, and but few of their retainers, had been lodged therein; and the inhabitants, with one accord, deserted their houses and fled, squalling, along the streets or over garden walls.
In the centre, where the five ways all met, a somewhat ill-favoured alehouse displayed the sign of the Chequers; and here the Duke of Gloucester chose his headquarters for the day.
To Dick he assigned the guard of one of the five streets.
“Go,” he said, “win your spurs. Win glory for me: one Richard for another. I tell you, if I rise, ye shall rise by the same ladder. Go,” he added, shaking him by the hand.
But, as soon as Dick was gone, he turned to a little shabby archer at his elbow.
“Go, Dutton, and that right speedily,” he added. “Follow that lad. If ye find him faithful, ye answer for his safety, a head for a head. Woe unto you, if ye return without him! But if he be faithless — or, for one instant, ye misdoubt him — stab him from behind.”
In the meanwhile Dick hastened to secure his post. The street he had to guard was very narrow, and closely lined with houses, which projected and overhung the roadway; but narrow and dark as it was, since it opened upon the market-place of the town, the main issue of the battle would probably fall to be decided on that spot.
The market-place was full of townspeople fleeing in disorder; but there was as yet no sign of any foeman ready to attack, and Dick judged he had some time before him to make ready his defence.
The two houses at the end stood deserted, with open doors, as the inhabitants had left them in their flight, and from these he had the furniture hastily tossed forth and piled into a barrier in the entry of the lane. A hundred men were placed at his disposal, and of these he threw the more part into the houses, where they might lie in shelter and deliver their arrows from the windows. With the rest, under his own immediate eye, he lined the barricade.
Meanwhile the utmost uproar and confusion had continued to prevail throughout the town; and what with the hurried clashing of bells, the sounding of trumpets, the swift movement of bodies of horse, the cries of the commanders, and the shrieks of women, the noise was almost deafening to the ear. Presently, little by little, the tumult began to subside; and soon after, files of men in armour and bodies of archers began to assemble and form in line of battle in the market-place.
A large portion of this body were in murrey and blue, and in the mounted knight who ordered their array Dick recognised Sir Daniel Brackley.
Then there befell a long pause, which was followed by the almost simultaneous sounding of four trumpets from four different quarters of the town. A fifth rang in answer from the market-place, and at the same moment the files began to move, and a shower of arrows rattled about the barricade, and sounded like blows upon the walls of the two flanking houses.
The attack had begun, by a common signal, on all the five issues of the quarter. Gloucester was beleaguered upon every side; and Dick judged, if he would make good his post, he must rely entirely on the hundred men of his command.
Seven volleys of arrows followed one upon the other, and in the very thick of the discharges Dick was touched from behind upon the arm, and found a page holding out to him a leathern jack, strengthened with bright plates of mail.
“It is from my Lord of Gloucester,” said the page. “He hath observed, Sir Richard, that ye went unarmed.”
Dick, with a glow at his heart at being so addressed, got to his feet and, with the assistance of the page, donned the defensive coat. Even as he did so, two arrows rattled harmlessly upon the plates, and a third struck down the page, mortally wounded, at his feet.
Meantime the whole body of the enemy had been steadily drawing nearer across the market-place; and by this time were so close at hand that Dick gave the order to return their shot. Immediately, from behind the barrier and from the windows of the houses, a counterblast of arrows sped, carrying death. But the Lancastrians, as if they had but waited for a signal, shouted loudly in answer; and began to close at a run upon the barrier, the horsemen still hanging back, with visors lowered.
Then followed an obstinate and deadly struggle, hand to hand. The assailants, wielding their falchions with one hand, strove with the other to drag down the structure of the barricade. On the other side, the parts were reversed; and the defenders exposed themselves like madmen to protect their rampart. So for some minutes the contest raged almost in silence, friend and foe falling one upon another. But it is always the easier to destroy; and when a single note upon the tucket recalled the attacking party from this desperate service, much of the barricade had been removed piecemeal, and the whole fabric had sunk to half its height, and tottered to a general fall.
And now the footmen in the market-place fell back, at a run, on every side. The horsemen, who had been standing in a line two deep, wheeled suddenly, and made their flank into their front; and as swift as a striking adder, the long, steel-clad column was launched upon the ruinous barricade.
Of the first two horsemen, one fell, rider and steed, and was ridden down by his companions. The second leaped clean upon the summit of the rampart, transpiercing an archer with his lance. Almost in the same instant he was dragged from the saddle and his horse despatched.
And then the full weight and impetus of the charge burst upon and scattered the defenders. The men-at-arms, surmounting their fallen comrades, and carried onward by the fury of their onslaught, dashed through Dick’s broken line and poured thundering up the lane beyond, as a stream bestrides and pours across a broken dam.
Yet was the fight not over. Still, in the narrow jaws of the entrance, Dick and a few survivors plied their bills like woodmen; and already, across the width of the passage, there had been formed a second, a higher, and a more effectual rampart of fallen men and disembowelled horses, lashing in the agonies of death.
Baffled by this fresh obstacle, the remainder of the cavalry fell back; and as, at the sight of this movement, the flight of arrows redoubled from the casements of the houses, their retreat had, for a moment, almost degenerated into flight.
Almost at the same time, those who had crossed the barricade and charged farther up the street, being met before the door of the Chequers by the formidable hunchback and the whole reserve of the Yorkists, began to come scattering backward, in the excess of disarray and terror.
Dick and his fellows faced about, fresh men poured out of the houses; a cruel blast of arrows met the fugitives full in the face, while Gloucester was already riding down their rear; in the inside of a minute and a half there was no living Lancastrian in the street.
Then, and not till then, did Dick hold up his reeking blade and give the word to cheer.
Meanwhile Gloucester dismounted from his horse and came forward to inspect the post. His face was as pale as linen; but his eyes shone in his head like some strange jewel, and his voice, when he spoke, was hoarse and broken with the exultation of battle and success. He looked at the rampart, which neither friend nor foe could now approach without precaution, so fiercely did the horses struggle in the throes of death, and at the sight of that great carnage he smiled upon one side.
“Despatch these horses,” he said; “they keep you from your vantage. Richard Shelton,” he added, “ye have pleased me. Kneel.”
The Lancastrians had already resumed their archery, and the shafts fell thick in the mouth of the street; but the duke, minding them not at all, deliberately drew his sword and dubbed Richard a knight upon the spot.
“And now, Sir Richard,” he continued, “if that ye see Lord Risingham, send me an express upon the instant. Were it your last man, let me hear of it incontinently. I had rather venture the post than lose my stroke at him. For mark me, all of ye,” he added, raising his voice, “if Earl Risingham fall by another hand than mine, I shall count this victory a defeat.”
“My lord duke,” said one of his attendants, “is your grace not weary of exposing his dear life unneedfully? Why tarry we here?”
“Catesby,” returned the duke, “here is the battle, not elsewhere. The rest are but feigned onslaughts. Here must we vanquish. And for the exposure — if ye were an ugly hunchback, and the children gecked at you upon the street, ye would count your body cheaper, and an hour of glory worth a life. Howbeit, if ye will, let us ride on and visit the other posts. Sir Richard here, my namesake, he shall still hold this entry, where he wadeth to the ankles in hot blood. Him can we trust. But mark it, Sir Richard, ye are not yet done. The worst is yet to ward. Sleep not.”
He came right up to young Shelton, looking him hard in the eyes, and taking his hand in both of his, gave it so extreme a squeeze that the blood had nearly spurted. Dick quailed before his eyes. The insane excitement, the courage, and the cruelty that he read therein filled him with dismay about the future. This young duke’s was indeed a gallant spirit, to ride foremost in the ranks of war; but after the battle, in the days of peace and in the circle of his trusted friends, that mind, it was to be dreaded, would continue to bring forth the fruits of death.
Dick, once more left to his own counsels, began to look about him. The arrow-shot had somewhat slackened. On all sides the enemy were falling back; and the greater part of the market-place was now left empty, the snow here trampled into orange mud, there splashed with gore, scattered all over with dead men and horses, and bristling thick with feathered arrows.
On his own side the loss had been cruel. The jaws of the little street and the ruins of the barricade were heaped with the dead and dying; and out of the hundred men with whom he had begun the battle, there were not seventy left who could still stand to arms.
At the same time, the day was passing. The first reinforcements might be looked for to arrive at any moment; and the Lancastrians, already shaken by the result of their desperate but unsuccessful onslaught, were in an ill temper to support a fresh invader.
There was a dial in the wall of one of the two flanking houses; and this, in the frosty winter sunshine, indicated ten of the forenoon.
Dick turned to the man who was at his elbow, a little insignificant archer, binding a cut in his arm.
“It was well fought,” he said, “and, by my sooth, they will not charge us twice.”
“Sir,” said the little archer, “ye have fought right well for York, and better for yourself. Never hath man in so brief space prevailed so greatly on the duke’s affections. That he should have entrusted such a post to one he knew not is a marvel. But look to your head, Sir Richard! If ye be vanquished — ay, if ye give way one foot’s breadth — axe or cord shall punish it; and I am set if ye do aught doubtful, I will tell you honestly, here to stab you from behind.”
Dick looked at the little man in amaze.
“You!” he cried. “And from behind!”
“It is right so,” returned the archer; “and because I like not the affair I tell it you. Ye must make the post good, Sir Richard, at your peril. O, our Crookback is a bold blade and a good warrior; but, whether in cold blood or in hot, he will have all things done exact to his commandment. If any fail or hinder, they shall die the death.”
“Now, by the saints!” cried Richard, “is this so? And will men follow such a leader?”
“Nay, they follow him gleefully,” replied the other; “for if he be exact to punish, he is most open-handed to reward. And if he spare not the blood and sweat of others, he is ever liberal of his own, still in the first front of battle, still the last to sleep. He will go far, will Crookback Dick o’ Gloucester!”
The young knight, if he had before been brave and vigilant, was now all the more inclined to watchfulness and courage. His sudden favour, he began to perceive, had brought perils in its train. And he turned from the archer, and once more scanned anxiously the market-place. It lay empty as before.
“I like not this quietude,” he said. “Doubtless they prepare us some surprise.”
And, as if in answer to his remark, the archers began once more to advance against the barricade, and the arrows to fall thick. But there was something hesitating in the attack. They came not on roundly, but seemed rather to await a further signal.
Dick looked uneasily about him, spying for a hidden danger. And sure enough, about half way up the little street, a door was suddenly opened from within, and the house continued, for some seconds, and both by door and window, to disgorge a torrent of Lancastrian archers. These, as they leaped down, hurriedly stood to their ranks, bent their bows, and proceeded to pour upon Dick’s rear a flight of arrows.
At the same time, the assailants in the market-place redoubled their shot, and began to close in stoutly upon the barricade.
Dick called down his whole command out of the houses, and facing them both ways, and encouraging their valour both by word and gesture, returned as best he could the double shower of shafts that fell about his post.
Meanwhile house after house was opened in the street, and the Lancastrians continued to pour out of the doors and leap down from the windows, shouting victory, until the number of enemies upon Dick’s rear was almost equal to the number in his face. It was plain that he could hold the post no longer; what was worse, even if he could have held it, it had now become useless; and the whole Yorkist army lay in a posture of helplessness upon the brink of a complete disaster.
The men behind him formed the vital flaw in the general defence; and it was upon these that Dick turned, charging at the head of his men. So vigorous was the attack, that the Lancastrian archers gave ground and staggered, and, at last, breaking their ranks, began to crowd back into the houses from which they had so recently and so vaingloriously sallied.
Meanwhile the men from the market-place had swarmed across the undefended barricade, and fell on hotly upon the other side; and Dick must once again face about, and proceed to drive them back. Once again the spirit of his men prevailed; they cleared the street in a triumphant style, but even as they did so the others issued again out of the houses, and took them, a third time, upon the rear.
The Yorkists began to be scattered; several times Dick found himself alone among his foes and plying his bright sword for life; several times he was conscious of a hurt. And meanwhile the fight swayed to and fro in the street without determinate result.
Suddenly Dick was aware of a great trumpeting about the outskirts of the town. The war-cry of York began to be rolled up to heaven, as by many and triumphant voices. And at the same time the men in front of him began to give ground rapidly, streaming out of the street and back upon the market-place. Some one gave the word to fly. Trumpets were blown distractedly, some for a rally, some to charge. It was plain that a great blow had been struck, and the Lancastrians were thrown, at least for the moment, into full disorder, and some degree of panic.
And then, like a theatre trick, there followed the last act of Shoreby Battle. The men in front of Richard turned tail, like a dog that has been whistled home, and fled like the wind. At the same moment there came through the market-place a storm of horsemen, fleeing and pursuing, the Lancastrians turning back to strike with the sword, the Yorkists riding them down at the point of the lance.
Conspicuous in the mellay, Dick beheld the Crookback. He was already giving a foretaste of that furious valour and skill to cut his way across the ranks of war, which, years afterwards upon the field of Bosworth, and when he was stained with crimes, almost sufficed to change the fortunes of the day and the destiny of the English throne. Evading, striking, riding down, he so forced and so manoeuvred his strong horse, so aptly defended himself, and so liberally scattered death to his opponents, that he was now far ahead of the foremost of his knights, hewing his way, with the truncheon of a bloody sword, to where Lord Risingham was rallying the bravest. A moment more and they had met; the tall, splendid, and famous warrior against the deformed and sickly boy.
Yet Shelton had never a doubt of the result; and when the fight next opened for a moment, the figure of the earl had disappeared; but still, in the first of the danger, Crookback Dick was launching his big horse and plying the truncheon of his sword.
Thus, by Shelton’s courage in holding the mouth of the street against the first attack, and by the opportune arrival of his seven hundred reinforcements, the lad, who was afterwards to be handed down to the execration of posterity under the name of Richard III., had won his first considerable fight.
There was not a foe left within striking distance; and Dick, as he looked ruefully about him on the remainder of his gallant force, began to count the cost of victory. He was himself, now that the danger was ended, so stiff and sore, so bruised and cut and broken, and, above all, so utterly exhausted by his desperate and unremitting labours in the fight, that he seemed incapable of any fresh exertion.
But this was not yet the hour for repose. Shoreby had been taken by assault; and though an open town, and not in any manner to be charged with the resistance, it was plain that these rough fighters would be not less rough now that the fight was over, and that the more horrid part of war would fall to be enacted. Richard of Gloucester was not the captain to protect the citizens from his infuriated soldiery; and even if he had the will, it might be questioned if he had the power.
It was, therefore, Dick’s business to find and to protect Joanna; and with that end he looked about him at the faces of his men. The three or four who seemed likeliest to be obedient and to keep sober he drew aside; and promising them a rich reward and a special recommendation to the duke, led them across the market-place, now empty of horsemen, and into the streets upon the further side.
Every here and there small combats of from two to a dozen still raged upon the open street; here and there a house was being besieged, the defenders throwing out stools and tables on the heads of the assailants. The snow was strewn with arms and corpses; but except for these partial combats the streets were deserted, and the houses, some standing open, and some shuttered and barricaded, had for the most part ceased to give out smoke.
Dick, threading the skirts of these skirmishers, led his followers briskly in the direction of the abbey church; but when he came the length of the main street, a cry of horror broke from his lips. Sir Daniel’s great house had been carried by assault. The gates hung in splinters from the hinges, and a double throng kept pouring in and out through the entrance, seeking and carrying booty. Meanwhile, in the upper storeys, some resistance was still being offered to the pillagers; for just as Dick came within eyeshot of the building, a casement was burst open from within, and a poor wretch in murrey and blue, screaming and resisting, was forced through the embrasure and tossed into the street below.
The most sickening apprehension fell upon Dick. He ran forward like one possessed, forced his way into the house among the foremost, and mounted without pause to the chamber on the third floor where he had last parted from Joanna. It was a mere wreck; the furniture had been overthrown, the cupboards broken open, and in one place a trailing corner of the arras lay smouldering on the embers of the fire.
Dick, almost without thinking, trod out the incipient conflagration, and then stood bewildered. Sir Daniel, Sir Oliver, Joanna, all were gone; but whether butchered in the rout or safe escaped from Shoreby, who should say?
He caught a passing archer by the tabard.
“Fellow,” he asked, “were ye here when this house was taken?”
“Let be,” said the archer. “A murrain! let be, or I strike.”
“Hark ye,” returned Richard, “two can play at that. Stand and be plain.”
But the man, flushed with drink and battle, struck Dick upon the shoulder with one hand, while with the other he twitched away his garment. Thereupon the full wrath of the young leader burst from his control. He seized the fellow in his strong embrace, and crushed him on the plates of his mailed bosom like a child; then, holding him at arm’s length, he bid him speak as he valued life.
“I pray you mercy!” gasped the archer. “An I had thought ye were so angry I would ’a’ been charier of crossing you. I was here indeed.”
“Know ye Sir Daniel?” pursued Dick.
“Well do I know him,” returned the man.
“Was he in the mansion?”
“Ay, sir, he was,” answered the archer; “but even as we entered by the yard gate he rode forth by the garden.”
“Alone?” cried Dick.
“He may ’a’ had a score of lances with him,” said the man.
“Lances! No women, then?” asked Shelton.
“Troth, I saw not,” said the archer. “But there were none in the house, if that be your quest.”
“I thank you,” said Dick. “Here is a piece for your pains.” But groping in his wallet, Dick found nothing. “Inquire for me to-morrow,” he added —“Richard Shelt — Sir Richard Shelton,” he corrected, “and I will see you handsomely rewarded.”
And then an idea struck Dick. He hastily descended to the courtyard, ran with all his might across the garden, and came to the great door of the church. It stood wide open; within, every corner of the pavement was crowded with fugitive burghers, surrounded by their families and laden with the most precious of their possessions, while, at the high altar, priests in full canonicals were imploring the mercy of God. Even as Dick entered, the loud chorus began to thunder in the vaulted roofs.
He hurried through the groups of refugees, and came to the door of the stair that led into the steeple. And here a tall churchman stepped before him and arrested his advance.
“Whither, my son?” he asked, severely.
“My father,” answered Dick, “I am here upon an errand of expedition. Stay me not. I command here for my Lord of Gloucester.”
“For my Lord of Gloucester?” repeated the priest. “Hath, then, the battle gone so sore?”
“The battle, father, is at an end, Lancaster clean sped, my Lord of Risingham — Heaven rest him! — left upon the field. And now, with your good leave, I follow mine affairs.” And thrusting on one side the priest, who seemed stupefied at the news, Dick pushed open the door and rattled up the stairs four at a bound, and without pause or stumble, till he stepped upon the open platform at the top.
Shoreby Church tower not only commanded the town, as in a map, but looked far, on both sides, over sea and land. It was now near upon noon; the day exceeding bright, the snow dazzling. And as Dick looked around him, he could measure the consequences of the battle.
A confused, growling uproar reached him from the streets, and now and then, but very rarely, the clash of steel. Not a ship, not so much as a skiff remained in harbour; but the sea was dotted with sails and row-boats laden with fugitives. On shore, too, the surface of the snowy meadows was broken up with bands of horsemen, some cutting their way towards the borders of the forest, others, who were doubtless of the Yorkist side, stoutly interposing and beating them back upon the town. Over all the open ground there lay a prodigious quantity of fallen men and horses, clearly defined upon the snow.
To complete the picture, those of the foot soldiers as had not found place upon a ship still kept up an archery combat on the borders of the port, and from the cover of the shoreside taverns. In that quarter, also, one or two houses had been fired, and the smoke towered high in the frosty sunlight, and blew off to sea in voluminous folds.
Already close upon the margin of the woods, and somewhat in the line of Holywood, one particular clump of fleeing horsemen riveted the attention of the young watcher on the tower. It was fairly numerous; in no other quarter of the field did so many Lancastrians still hold together; thus they had left a wide, discoloured wake upon the snow, and Dick was able to trace them step by step from where they had left the town.
While Dick stood watching them, they had gained, unopposed, the first fringe of the leafless forest, and, turning a little from their direction, the sun fell for a moment full on their array, as it was relieved against the dusky wood.
“Murrey and blue!” cried Dick. “I swear it — murrey and blue!”
The next moment he was descending the stairway.
It was now his business to seek out the Duke of Gloucester, who alone, in the disorder of the forces, might be able to supply him with a sufficiency of men. The fighting in the main town was now practically at an end; and as Dick ran hither and thither, seeking the commander, the streets were thick with wandering soldiers, some laden with more booty than they could well stagger under, others shouting drunk. None of them, when questioned, had the least notion of the duke’s whereabouts; and, at last, it was by sheer good fortune that Dick found him, where he sat in the saddle directing operations to dislodge the archers from the harbour side.
“Sir Richard Shelton, ye are well found,” he said. “I owe you one thing that I value little, my life; and one that I can never pay you for, this victory. Catesby, if I had ten such captains as Sir Richard, I would march forthright on London. But now, sir, claim your reward.”
“Freely, my lord,” said Dick, “freely and loudly. One hath escaped to whom I owe some grudges, and taken with him one whom I owe love and service. Give me, then, fifty lances, that I may pursue; and for any obligation that your graciousness is pleased to allow, it shall be clean discharged.”
“How call ye him?” inquired the duke.
“Sir Daniel Brackley,” answered Richard.
“Out upon him, double-face!” cried Gloucester. “Here is no reward, Sir Richard; here is fresh service offered, and, if that ye bring his head to me, a fresh debt upon my conscience. Catesby, get him these lances; and you, sir, bethink ye, in the meanwhile, what pleasure, honour, or profit it shall be mine to give you.”
Just then the Yorkist skirmishers carried one of the shoreside taverns, swarming in upon it on three sides, and driving out or taking its defenders. Crookback Dick was pleased to cheer the exploit, and pushing his horse a little nearer, called to see the prisoners.
There were four or five of them — two men of my Lord Shoreby’s and one of Lord Risingham’s among the number, and last, but in Dick’s eyes not least, a tall, shambling, grizzled old shipman, between drunk and sober, and with a dog whimpering and jumping at his heels.
The young duke passed them for a moment under a severe review.
“Good,” he said. “Hang them.”
And he turned the other way to watch the progress of the fight.
“My lord,” said Dick, “so please you, I have found my reward. Grant me the life and liberty of yon old shipman.”
Gloucester turned and looked the speaker in the face.
“Sir Richard,” he said, “I make not war with peacock’s feathers, but steel shafts. Those that are mine enemies I slay, and that without excuse or favour. For, bethink ye, in this realm of England, that is so torn in pieces, there is not a man of mine but hath a brother or a friend upon the other party. If, then, I did begin to grant these pardons, I might sheathe my sword.”
“It may be so, my lord; and yet I will be overbold, and at the risk of your disfavour, recall your lordship’s promise,” replied Dick.
Richard of Gloucester flushed.
“Mark it right well,” he said, harshly. “I love not mercy, nor yet mercymongers. Ye have this day laid the foundations of high fortune. If ye oppose to me my word, which I have plighted, I will yield. But, by the glory of heaven, there your favour dies!
“Mine is the loss,” said Dick.
“Give him his sailor,” said the duke; and wheeling his horse, he turned his back upon young Shelton.
Dick was nor glad nor sorry. He had seen too much of the young duke to set great store on his affection; and the origin and growth of his own favour had been too flimsy and too rapid to inspire much confidence. One thing alone he feared — that the vindictive leader might revoke the offer of the lances. But here he did justice neither to Gloucester’s honour (such as it was) nor, above all, to his decision. If he had once judged Dick to be the right man to pursue Sir Daniel, he was not one to change; and he soon proved it by shouting after Catesby to be speedy, for the paladin was waiting.
In the meanwhile, Dick turned to the old shipman, who had seemed equally indifferent to his condemnation and to his subsequent release.
“Arblaster,” said Dick, “I have done you ill; but now, by the rood, I think I have cleared the score.”
But the old skipper only looked upon him dully and held his peace.
“Come,” continued Dick, “a life is a life, old shrew, and it is more than ships or liquor. Say ye forgive me; for if your life be worth nothing to you, it hath cost me the beginnings of my fortune. Come, I have paid for it dearly; be not so churlish.”
“An I had had my ship,” said Arblaster, “I would ’a’ been forth and safe on the high seas — I and my man Tom. But ye took my ship, gossip, and I’m a beggar; and for my man Tom, a knave fellow in russet shot him down. ‘Murrain!’ quoth he, and spake never again. ‘Murrain’ was the last of his words, and the poor spirit of him passed. ‘A will never sail no more, will my Tom.’”
Dick was seized with unavailing penitence and pity; he sought to take the skipper’s hand, but Arblaster avoided his touch.
“Nay,” said he, “let be. Y’ have played the devil with me, and let that content you.”
The words died in Richard’s throat. He saw, through tears, the poor old man, bemused with liquor and sorrow, go shambling away, with bowed head, across the snow, and the unnoticed dog whimpering at his heels, and for the first time began to understand the desperate game that we play in life; and how a thing once done is not to be changed or remedied, by any penitence.
But there was no time left to him for vain regret.
Catesby had now collected the horsemen, and riding up to Dick he dismounted, and offered him his own horse.
“This morning,” he said, “I was somewhat jealous of your favour; it hath not been of a long growth; and now, Sir Richard, it is with a very good heart that I offer you this horse — to ride away with.”
“Suffer me yet a moment,” replied Dick. “This favour of mine — whereupon was it founded?”
“Upon your name,” answered Catesby. “It is my lord’s chief superstition. Were my name Richard, I should be an earl to-morrow.”
“Well, sir, I thank you,” returned Dick; “and since I am little likely to follow these great fortunes, I will even say farewell. I will not pretend I was displeased to think myself upon the road to fortune; but I will not pretend, neither, that I am over-sorry to be done with it. Command and riches, they are brave things, to be sure; but a word in your ear — yon duke of yours, he is a fearsome lad.”
“Nay,” said he, “of a verity he that rides with Crooked Dick will ride deep. Well, God keep us all from evil! Speed ye well.”
Thereupon Dick put himself at the head of his men, and giving the word of command, rode off.
He made straight across the town, following what he supposed to be the route of Sir Daniel, and spying around for any signs that might decide if he were right.
The streets were strewn with the dead and the wounded, whose fate, in the bitter frost, was far the more pitiable. Gangs of the victors went from house to house, pillaging and stabbing, and sometimes singing together as they went.
From different quarters, as he rode on, the sounds of violence and outrage came to young Shelton’s ears; now the blows of the sledge-hammer on some barricaded door, and now the miserable shrieks of women.
Dick’s heart had just been awakened. He had just seen the cruel consequences of his own behaviour; and the thought of the sum of misery that was now acting in the whole of Shoreby filled him with despair.
At length he reached the outskirts, and there, sure enough, he saw straight before him the same broad, beaten track across the snow that he had marked from the summit of the church. Here, then, he went the faster on; but still, as he rode, he kept a bright eye upon the fallen men and horses that lay beside the track. Many of these, he was relieved to see, wore Sir Daniel’s colours, and the faces of some, who lay upon their back, he even recognised.
About half-way between the town and the forest, those whom he was following had plainly been assailed by archers; for the corpses lay pretty closely scattered, each pierced by an arrow. And here Dick spied among the rest the body of a very young lad, whose face was somehow hauntingly familiar to him.
He halted his troop, dismounted, and raised the lad’s head. As he did so, the hood fell back, and a profusion of long brown hair unrolled itself. At the same time the eyes opened.
“Ah! lion driver!” said a feeble voice. “She is farther on. Ride — ride fast!”
And then the poor young lady fainted once again.
One of Dick’s men carried a flask of some strong cordial, and with this Dick succeeded in reviving consciousness. Then he took Joanna’s friend upon his saddlebow, and once more pushed toward the forest.
“Why do ye take me?” said the girl. “Ye but delay your speed.”
“Nay, Mistress Risingham,” replied Dick. “Shoreby is full of blood and drunkenness and riot. Here ye are safe; content ye.”
“I will not be beholden to any of your faction,” she cried; “set me down.”
“Madam, ye know not what ye say,” returned Dick. “Y’ are hurt”—
“I am not,” she said. “It was my horse was slain.”
“It matters not one jot,” replied Richard. “Ye are here in the midst of open snow, and compassed about with enemies. Whether ye will or not, I carry you with me. Glad am I to have the occasion; for thus shall I repay some portion of our debt.”
For a little while she was silent. Then, very suddenly, she asked:
“My Lord Risingham?” returned Dick. “I would I had good news to give you, madam; but I have none. I saw him once in the battle, and once only. Let us hope the best.”
It was almost certain that Sir Daniel had made for the Moat House; but, considering the heavy snow, the lateness of the hour, and the necessity under which he would lie of avoiding the few roads and striking across the wood, it was equally certain that he could not hope to reach it ere the morrow.
There were two courses open to Dick; either to continue to follow in the knight’s trail, and, if he were able, to fall upon him that very night in camp, or to strike out a path of his own, and seek to place himself between Sir Daniel and his destination.
Either scheme was open to serious objection, and Dick, who feared to expose Joanna to the hazards of a fight, had not yet decided between them when he reached the borders of the wood.
At this point Sir Daniel had turned a little to his left, and then plunged straight under a grove of very lofty timber. His party had then formed to a narrower front, in order to pass between the trees, and the track was trod proportionally deeper in the snow. The eye followed it under the leafless tracery of the oaks, running direct and narrow; the trees stood over it, with knotty joints and the great, uplifted forest of their boughs; there was no sound, whether of man or beast — not so much as the stirring of a robin; and over the field of snow the winter sun lay golden among netted shadows.
“How say ye,” asked Dick of one of the men, “to follow straight on, or strike across for Tunstall?”
“Sir Richard,” replied the man-at-arms, “I would follow the line until they scatter.”
“Ye are, doubtless, right,” returned Dick; “but we came right hastily upon the errand, even as the time commanded. Here are no houses, neither for food nor shelter, and by the morrow’s dawn we shall know both cold fingers and an empty belly. How say ye, lads? Will ye stand a pinch for expedition’s sake, or shall we turn by Holywood and sup with Mother Church? The case being somewhat doubtful, I will drive no man; yet if ye would suffer me to lead you, ye would choose the first.”
The men answered, almost with one voice, that they would follow Sir Richard where he would.
And Dick, setting spur to his horse, began once more to go forward.
The snow in the trail had been trodden very hard, and the pursuers had thus a great advantage over the pursued. They pushed on, indeed, at a round trot, two hundred hoofs beating alternately on the dull pavement of the snow, and the jingle of weapons and the snorting of horses raising a warlike noise along the arches of the silent wood.
Presently, the wide slot of the pursued came out upon the high road from Holywood; it was there, for a moment, indistinguishable; and, where it once more plunged into the unbeaten snow upon the farther side, Dick was surprised to see it narrower and lighter trod. Plainly, profiting by the road, Sir Daniel had begun already to scatter his command.
At all hazards, one chance being equal to another, Dick continued to pursue the straight trail; and that, after an hour’s riding, in which it led into the very depths of the forest, suddenly split, like a bursting shell, into two dozen others, leading to every point of the compass.
Dick drew bridle in despair. The short winter’s day was near an end; the sun, a dull red orange, shorn of rays, swam low among the leafless thickets; the shadows were a mile long upon the snow; the frost bit cruelly at the finger-nails; and the breath and steam of the horses mounted in a cloud.
“Well, we are outwitted,” Dick confessed. “Strike we for Holywood, after all. It is still nearer us than Tunstall — or should be by the station of the sun.”
So they wheeled to their left, turning their backs on the red shield of sun, and made across country for the abbey. But now times were changed with them; they could no longer spank forth briskly on a path beaten firm by the passage of their foes, and for a goal to which that path itself conducted them. Now they must plough at a dull pace through the encumbering snow, continually pausing to decide their course, continually floundering in drifts. The sun soon left them; the glow of the west decayed; and presently they were wandering in a shadow of blackness, under frosty stars.
Presently, indeed, the moon would clear the hilltops, and they might resume their march. But till then, every random step might carry them wider of their march. There was nothing for it but to camp and wait.
Sentries were posted; a spot of ground was cleared of snow, and, after some failures, a good fire blazed in the midst. The men-at-arms sat close about this forest hearth, sharing such provisions as they had, and passing about the flask; and Dick, having collected the most delicate of the rough and scanty fare, brought it to Lord Risingham’s niece, where she sat apart from the soldiery against a tree.
She sat upon one horse-cloth, wrapped in another, and stared straight before her at the firelit scene. At the offer of food she started, like one wakened from a dream, and then silently refused.
“Madam,” said Dick, “let me beseech you, punish me not so cruelly. Wherein I have offended you, I know not; I have, indeed, carried you away, but with a friendly violence; I have, indeed, exposed you to the inclemency of night, but the hurry that lies upon me hath for its end the preservation of another, who is no less frail and no less unfriended than yourself. At least, madam, punish not yourself; and eat, if not for hunger, then for strength.”
“I will eat nothing at the hands that slew my kinsman,” she replied.
“Dear madam,” Dick cried, “I swear to you upon the rood I touched him not.”
“Swear to me that he still lives,” she returned.
“I will not palter with you,” answered Dick. “Pity bids me to wound you. In my heart I do believe him dead.”
“And ye ask me to eat!” she cried. “Ay, and they call you ‘sir!’ Y’ have won your spurs by my good kinsman’s murder. And had I not been fool and traitor both, and saved you in your enemy’s house, ye should have died the death, and he — he that was worth twelve of you — were living.”
“I did but my man’s best, even as your kinsman did upon the other party,” answered Dick. “Were he still living — as I vow to Heaven I wish it! — he would praise, not blame me.”
“Sir Daniel hath told me,” she replied. “He marked you at the barricade. Upon you, he saith, their party foundered; it was you that won the battle. Well, then, it was you that killed my good Lord Risingham, as sure as though ye had strangled him. And ye would have me eat with you — and your hands not washed from killing? But Sir Daniel hath sworn your downfall. He ’tis that will avenge me!”
The unfortunate Dick was plunged in gloom. Old Arblaster returned upon his mind, and he groaned aloud.
“Do ye hold me so guilty?” he said; “you that defended me — you that are Joanna’s friend?”
“What made ye in the battle?” she retorted. “Y’ are of no party; y’ are but a lad — but legs and body, without government of wit or counsel! Wherefore did ye fight? For the love of hurt, pardy!”
“Nay,” cried Dick, “I know not. But as the realm of England goes, if that a poor gentleman fight not upon the one side, perforce he must fight upon the other. He may not stand alone; ’tis not in nature.”
“They that have no judgment should not draw the sword,” replied the young lady. “Ye that fight but for a hazard, what are ye but a butcher? War is but noble by the cause, and y’ have disgraced it.”
“Madam,” said the miserable Dick, “I do partly see mine error. I have made too much haste; I have been busy before my time. Already I stole a ship — thinking, I do swear it, to do well — and thereby brought about the death of many innocent, and the grief and ruin of a poor old man whose face this very day hath stabbed me like a dagger. And for this morning, I did but design to do myself credit, and get fame to marry with, and, behold! I have brought about the death of your dear kinsman that was good to me. And what besides, I know not. For, alas! I may have set York upon the throne, and that may be the worser cause, and may do hurt to England. O, madam, I do see my sin. I am unfit for life. I will, for penance sake and to avoid worse evil, once I have finished this adventure, get me to a cloister. I will forswear Joanna and the trade of arms. I will be a friar, and pray for your good kinsman’s spirit all my days.”
It appeared to Dick, in this extremity of his humiliation and repentance, that the young lady had laughed.
Raising his countenance, he found her looking down upon him, in the fire-light, with a somewhat peculiar but not unkind expression.
“Madam,” he cried, thinking the laughter to have been an illusion of his hearing, but still, from her changed looks, hoping to have touched her heart, “madam, will not this content you? I give up all to undo what I have done amiss; I make heaven certain for Lord Risingham. And all this upon the very day that I have won my spurs, and thought myself the happiest young gentleman on ground.”
“O boy,” she said —“good boy!”
And then, to the extreme surprise of Dick, she first very tenderly wiped the tears away from his cheeks, and then, as if yielding to a sudden impulse, threw both her arms about his neck, drew up his face, and kissed him. A pitiful bewilderment came over simple-minded Dick.
“But come,” she said, with great cheerfulness, “you that are a captain, ye must eat. Why sup ye not?”
“Dear Mistress Risingham,” replied Dick, “I did but wait first upon my prisoner; but, to say truth, penitence will no longer suffer me to endure the sight of food. I were better to fast, dear lady, and to pray.”
“Call me Alicia,” she said; “are we not old friends? And now, come, I will eat with you, bit for bit and sup for sup; so if ye eat not, neither will I; but if ye eat hearty, I will dine like a ploughman.”
So there and then she fell to; and Dick, who had an excellent stomach, proceeded to bear her company, at first with great reluctance, but gradually, as he entered into the spirit, with more and more vigour and devotion: until, at last, he forgot even to watch his model, and most heartily repaired the expenses of his day of labour and excitement.
“Lion-driver,” she said, at length, “ye do not admire a maid in a man’s jerkin?”
The moon was now up; and they were only waiting to repose the wearied horses. By the moon’s light, the still penitent but now well-fed Richard beheld her looking somewhat coquettishly down upon him.
“Madam”— he stammered, surprised at this new turn in her manners.
“Nay,” she interrupted, “it skills not to deny; Joanna hath told me, but come, Sir Lion-driver, look at me — am I so homely — come!”
And she made bright eyes at him.
“Ye are something smallish, indeed”— began Dick.
And here again she interrupted him, this time with a ringing peal of laughter that completed his confusion and surprise.
“Smallish!” she cried. “Nay, now, be honest as ye are bold; I am a dwarf, or little better; but for all that — come, tell me! — for all that, passably fair to look upon; is’t not so?”
“Nay, madam, exceedingly fair,” said the distressed knight, pitifully trying to seem easy.
“And a man would be right glad to wed me?” she pursued.
“O, madam, right glad!” agreed Dick.
“Call me Alicia,” said she.
“Alicia,” quoth Sir Richard.
“Well, then, lion-driver,” she continued, “sith that ye slew my kinsman, and left me without stay, ye owe me, in honour, every reparation; do ye not?”
“I do, madam,” said Dick. “Although, upon my heart, I do hold me but partially guilty of that brave knight’s blood.”
“Would ye evade me?” she cried.
“Madam, not so. I have told you; at your bidding, I will even turn me a monk,” said Richard.
“Then, in honour, ye belong to me?” she concluded.
“In honour, madam, I suppose”— began the young man.
“Go to!” she interrupted; “ye are too full of catches. In honour do ye belong to me, till ye have paid the evil?”
“In honour, I do,” said Dick.
“Hear, then,” she continued; “Ye would make but a sad friar, methinks; and since I am to dispose of you at pleasure, I will even take you for my husband. Nay, now, no words!” cried she. “They will avail you nothing. For see how just it is, that you who deprived me of one home, should supply me with another. And as for Joanna, she will be the first, believe me, to commend the change; for, after all, as we be dear friends, what matters it with which of us ye wed? Not one whit!”
“Madam,” said Dick, “I will go into a cloister, an ye please to bid me; but to wed with anyone in this big world besides Joanna Sedley is what I will consent to neither for man’s force nor yet for lady’s pleasure. Pardon me if I speak my plain thoughts plainly; but where a maid is very bold, a poor man must even be the bolder.”
“Dick,” she said, “ye sweet boy, ye must come and kiss me for that word. Nay, fear not, ye shall kiss me for Joanna; and when we meet, I shall give it back to her, and say I stole it. And as for what ye owe me, why, dear simpleton, methinks ye were not alone in that great battle; and even if York be on the throne, it was not you that set him there. But for a good, sweet, honest heart, Dick, y’ are all that; and if I could find it in my soul to envy your Joanna anything, I would even envy her your love.”
The horses had by this time finished the small store of provender, and fully breathed from their fatigues. At Dick’s command, the fire was smothered in snow; and while his men got once more wearily to saddle, he himself, remembering, somewhat late, true woodland caution, chose a tall oak and nimbly clambered to the topmost fork. Hence he could look far abroad on the moonlit and snow-paven forest. On the south-west, dark against the horizon, stood those upland, heathy quarters where he and Joanna had met with the terrifying misadventure of the leper. And there his eye was caught by a spot of ruddy brightness no bigger than a needle’s eye.
He blamed himself sharply for his previous neglect. Were that, as it appeared to be, the shining of Sir Daniel’s camp-fire, he should long ago have seen and marched for it; above all, he should, for no consideration, have announced his neighbourhood by lighting a fire of his own. But now he must no longer squander valuable hours. The direct way to the uplands was about two miles in length; but it was crossed by a very deep, precipitous dingle, impassable to mounted men; and for the sake of speed, it seemed to Dick advisable to desert the horses and attempt the adventure on foot.
Ten men were left to guard the horses; signals were agreed upon by which they could communicate in case of need; and Dick set forth at the head of the remainder, Alicia Risingham walking stoutly by his side.
The men had freed themselves of heavy armour, and left behind their lances; and they now marched with a very good spirit in the frozen snow, and under the exhilarating lustre of the moon. The descent into the dingle, where a stream strained sobbing through the snow and ice, was effected with silence and order; and on the further side, being then within a short half mile of where Dick had seen the glimmer of the fire, the party halted to breathe before the attack.
In the vast silence of the wood, the lightest sounds were audible from far; and Alicia, who was keen of hearing, held up her finger warningly and stooped to listen. All followed her example; but besides the groans of the choked brook in the dingle close behind, and the barking of a fox at a distance of many miles among the forest, to Dick’s acutest hearkening, not a breath was audible.
“But yet, for sure, I heard the clash of harness,” whispered Alicia.
“Madam,” returned Dick, who was more afraid of that young lady than of ten stout warriors, “I would not hint ye were mistaken; but it might well have come from either of the camps.”
“It came not thence. It came from westward,” she declared.
“It may be what it will,” returned Dick; “and it must be as heaven please. Reck we not a jot, but push on the livelier, and put it to the touch. Up, friends — enough breathed.”
As they advanced, the snow became more and more trampled with hoof-marks, and it was plain that they were drawing near to the encampment of a considerable force of mounted men. Presently they could see the smoke pouring from among the trees, ruddily coloured on its lower edge and scattering bright sparks.
And here, pursuant to Dick’s orders, his men began to open out, creeping stealthily in the covert, to surround on every side the camp of their opponents. He himself, placing Alicia in the shelter of a bulky oak, stole straight forth in the direction of the fire.
At last, through an opening of the wood, his eye embraced the scene of the encampment. The fire had been built upon a heathy hummock of the ground, surrounded on three sides by thicket, and it now burned very strong, roaring aloud and brandishing flames. Around it there sat not quite a dozen people, warmly cloaked; but though the neighbouring snow was trampled down as by a regiment, Dick looked in vain for any horse. He began to have a terrible misgiving that he was out-manoeuvred. At the same time, in a tall man with a steel salet, who was spreading his hands before the blaze, he recognised his old friend and still kindly enemy, Bennet Hatch; and in two others, sitting a little back, he made out, even in their male disguise, Joanna Sedley and Sir Daniel’s wife.
“Well,” thought he to himself, “even if I lose my horses, let me get my Joanna, and why should I complain?”
And then, from the further side of the encampment, there came a little whistle, announcing that his men had joined, and the investment was complete.
Bennet, at the sound, started to his feet; but ere he had time to spring upon his arms, Dick hailed him.
“Bennet,” he said —“Bennet, old friend, yield ye. Ye will but spill men’s lives in vain, if ye resist.”
“’Tis Master Shelton, by St. Barbary!” cried Hatch. “Yield me? Ye ask much. What force have ye?”
“I tell you, Bennet, ye are both outnumbered and begirt,” said Dick. “Caesar and Charlemagne would cry for quarter. I have two score men at my whistle, and with one shoot of arrows I could answer for you all.”
“Master Dick,” said Bennet, “it goes against my heart; but I must do my duty. The saints help you!” And therewith he raised a little tucket to his mouth and wound a rousing call.
Then followed a moment of confusion; for while Dick, fearing for the ladies, still hesitated to give the word to shoot, Hatch’s little band sprang to their weapons and formed back to back as for a fierce resistance. In the hurry of their change of place, Joanna sprang from her seat and ran like an arrow to her lover’s side.
“Here, Dick!” she cried, as she clasped his hand in hers.
But Dick still stood irresolute; he was yet young to the more deplorable necessities of war, and the thought of old Lady Brackley checked the command upon his tongue. His own men became restive. Some of them cried on him by name; others, of their own accord, began to shoot; and at the first discharge poor Bennet bit the dust. Then Dick awoke.
“On!” he cried. “Shoot, boys, and keep to cover. England and York!”
But just then the dull beat of many horses on the snow suddenly arose in the hollow ear of the night, and, with incredible swiftness, drew nearer and swelled louder. At the same time, answering tuckets repeated and repeated Hatch’s call.
“Rally, rally!” cried Dick. “Rally upon me! Rally for your lives!”
But his men — afoot, scattered, taken in the hour when they had counted on an easy triumph — began instead to give ground severally, and either stood wavering or dispersed into the thickets. And when the first of the horsemen came charging through the open avenues and fiercely riding their steeds into the underwood, a few stragglers were overthrown or speared among the brush, but the bulk of Dick’s command had simply melted at the rumour of their coming.
Dick stood for a moment, bitterly recognising the fruits of his precipitate and unwise valour. Sir Daniel had seen the fire; he had moved out with his main force, whether to attack his pursuers or to take them in the rear if they should venture the assault. His had been throughout the part of a sagacious captain; Dick’s the conduct of an eager boy. And here was the young knight, his sweetheart, indeed, holding him tightly by the hand, but otherwise alone, his whole command of men and horses dispersed in the night and the wide forest, like a paper of pins in a bay barn.
“The saints enlighten me!” he thought. “It is well I was knighted for this morning’s matter; this doth me little honour.”
And thereupon, still holding Joanna, he began to run.
The silence of the night was now shattered by the shouts of the men of Tunstall, as they galloped hither and thither, hunting fugitives; and Dick broke boldly through the underwood and ran straight before him like a deer. The silver clearness of the moon upon the open snow increased, by contrast, the obscurity of the thickets; and the extreme dispersion of the vanquished led the pursuers into wildly divergent paths. Hence, in but a little while, Dick and Joanna paused, in a close covert, and heard the sounds of the pursuit, scattering abroad, indeed, in all directions, but yet fainting already in the distance.
“An I had but kept a reserve of them together,” Dick cried, bitterly, “I could have turned the tables yet! Well, we live and learn; next time it shall go better, by the rood.”
“Nay, Dick,” said Joanna, “what matters it? Here we are together once again.”
He looked at her, and there she was — John Matcham, as of yore, in hose and doublet. But now he knew her; now, even in that ungainly dress, she smiled upon him, bright with love; and his heart was transported with joy.
“Sweetheart,” he said, “if ye forgive this blunderer, what care I? Make we direct for Holywood; there lieth your good guardian and my better friend, Lord Foxham. There shall we be wed; and whether poor or wealthy, famous or unknown, what, matters it? This day, dear love, I won my spurs; I was commended by great men for my valour; I thought myself the goodliest man of war in all broad England. Then, first, I fell out of my favour with the great; and now have I been well thrashed, and clean lost my soldiers. There was a downfall for conceit! But, dear, I care not — dear, if ye still love me and will wed, I would have my knighthood done away, and mind it not a jot.”
“My Dick!” she cried. “And did they knight you?”
“Ay, dear, ye are my lady now,” he answered, fondly; “or ye shall, ere noon to-morrow — will ye not?”
“That will I, Dick, with a glad heart,” she answered.
“Ay, sir? Methought ye were to be a monk!” said a voice in their ears.
“Alicia!” cried Joanna.
“Even so,” replied the young lady, coming forward. “Alicia, whom ye left for dead, and whom your lion-driver found, and brought to life again, and, by my sooth, made love to, if ye want to know!”
“I’ll not believe it,” cried Joanna. “Dick!”
“Dick!” mimicked Alicia. “Dick, indeed! Ay, fair sir, and ye desert poor damsels in distress,” she continued, turning to the young knight. “Ye leave them planted behind oaks. But they say true — the age of chivalry is dead.”
“Madam,” cried Dick, in despair, “upon my soul I had forgotten you outright. Madam, ye must try to pardon me. Ye see, I had new found Joanna!”
“I did not suppose that ye had done it o’ purpose,” she retorted. “But I will be cruelly avenged. I will tell a secret to my Lady Shelton — she that is to be,” she added, curtseying. “Joanna,” she continued, “I believe, upon my soul, your sweetheart is a bold fellow in a fight, but he is, let me tell you plainly, the softest-hearted simpleton in England. Go to — ye may do your pleasure with him! And now, fool children, first kiss me, either one of you, for luck and kindness; and then kiss each other just one minute by the glass, and not one second longer; and then let us all three set forth for Holywood as fast as we can stir; for these woods, methinks, are full of peril and exceeding cold.”
“But did my Dick make love to you?” asked Joanna, clinging to her sweetheart’s side.
“Nay, fool girl,” returned Alicia; “it was I made love to him. I offered to marry him, indeed; but he bade me go marry with my likes. These were his words. Nay, that I will say: he is more plain than pleasant. But now, children, for the sake of sense, set forward. Shall we go once more over the dingle, or push straight for Holywood?”
“Why,” said Dick, “I would like dearly to get upon a horse; for I have been sore mauled and beaten, one way and another, these last days, and my poor body is one bruise. But how think ye? If the men, upon the alarm of the fighting, had fled away, we should have gone about for nothing. ’Tis but some three short miles to Holywood direct; the bell hath not beat nine; the snow is pretty firm to walk upon, the moon clear; how if we went even as we are?”
“Agreed,” cried Alicia; but Joanna only pressed upon Dick’s arm.
Forth, then, they went, through open leafless groves and down snow-clad alleys, under the white face of the winter moon; Dick and Joanna walking hand in hand and in a heaven of pleasure; and their light-minded companion, her own bereavements heartily forgotten, followed a pace or two behind, now rallying them upon their silence, and now drawing happy pictures of their future and united lives.
Still, indeed, in the distance of the wood, the riders of Tunstall might be heard urging their pursuit; and from time to time cries or the clash of steel announced the shock of enemies. But in these young folk, bred among the alarms of war, and fresh from such a multiplicity of dangers, neither fear nor pity could be lightly wakened. Content to find the sounds still drawing farther and farther away, they gave up their hearts to the enjoyment of the hour, walking already, as Alicia put it, in a wedding procession; and neither the rude solitude of the forest, nor the cold of the freezing night, had any force to shadow or distract their happiness.
At length, from a rising hill, they looked below them on the dell of Holywood. The great windows of the forest abbey shone with torch and candle; its high pinnacles and spires arose very clear and silent, and the gold rood upon the topmost summit glittered brightly in the moon. All about it, in the open glade, camp-fires were burning, and the ground was thick with huts; and across the midst of the picture the frozen river curved.
“By the mass,” said Richard, “there are Lord Foxham’s fellows still encamped. The messenger hath certainly miscarried. Well, then, so better. We have power at hand to face Sir Daniel.”
But if Lord Foxham’s men still lay encamped in the long holm at Holywood, it was from a different reason from the one supposed by Dick. They had marched, indeed, for Shoreby; but ere they were half way thither, a second messenger met them, and bade them return to their morning’s camp, to bar the road against Lancastrian fugitives, and to be so much nearer to the main army of York. For Richard of Gloucester, having finished the battle and stamped out his foes in that district, was already on the march to rejoin his brother; and not long after the return of my Lord Foxham’s retainers, Crookback himself drew rein before the abbey door. It was in honour of this august visitor that the windows shone with lights; and at the hour of Dick’s arrival with his sweetheart and her friend, the whole ducal party was being entertained in the refectory with the splendour of that powerful and luxurious monastery.
Dick, not quite with his good will, was brought before them. Gloucester, sick with fatigue, sat leaning upon one hand his white and terrifying countenance; Lord Foxham, half recovered from his wound, was in a place of honour on his left.
“How, sir?” asked Richard. “Have ye brought me Sir Daniel’s head?”
“My lord duke,” replied Dick, stoutly enough, but with a qualm at heart, “I have not even the good fortune to return with my command. I have been, so please your grace, well beaten.”
Gloucester looked upon him with a formidable frown.
“I gave you fifty lances, 3 sir,” he said.
“My lord duke, I had but fifty men-at-arms,” replied the young knight.
“How is this?” said Gloucester. “He did ask me fifty lances.”
“May it please your grace,” replied Catesby, smoothly, “for a pursuit we gave him but the horsemen.”
“It is well,” replied Richard, adding, “Shelton, ye may go.”
“Stay!” said Lord Foxham. “This young man likewise had a charge from me. It may be he hath better sped. Say, Master Shelton, have ye found the maid?”
“I praise the saints, my lord,” said Dick, “she is in this house.”
“Is it even so? Well, then, my lord the duke,” resumed Lord Foxham, “with your good will, to-morrow, before the army march, I do propose a marriage. This young squire —”
“Young knight,” interrupted Catesby.
“Say ye so, Sir William?” cried Lord Foxham.
“I did myself, and for good service, dub him knight,” said Gloucester. “He hath twice manfully served me. It is not valour of hands, it is a man’s mind of iron, that he lacks. He will not rise, Lord Foxham. ’Tis a fellow that will fight indeed bravely in a mellay, but hath a capon’s heart. Howbeit, if he is to marry, marry him in the name of Mary, and be done!”
“Nay, he is a brave lad — I know it,” said Lord Foxham. “Content ye, then, Sir Richard. I have compounded this affair with Master Hamley, and to-morrow ye shall wed.”
Whereupon Dick judged it prudent to withdraw; but he was not yet clear of the refectory, when a man, but newly alighted at the gate, came running four stairs at a bound, and, brushing through the abbey servants, threw himself on one knee before the duke.
“Victory, my lord,” he cried.
And before Dick had got to the chamber set apart for him as Lord Foxham’s guest, the troops in the holm were cheering around their fires; for upon that same day, not twenty miles away, a second crushing blow had been dealt to the power of Lancaster.
The next morning Dick was afoot before the sun, and having dressed himself to the best advantage with the aid of the Lord Foxham’s baggage, and got good reports of Joan, he set forth on foot to walk away his impatience.
For some while he made rounds among the soldiery, who were getting to arms in the wintry twilight of the dawn and by the red glow of torches; but gradually he strolled further afield, and at length passed clean beyond the outposts, and walked alone in the frozen forest, waiting for the sun.
His thoughts were both quiet and happy. His brief favour with the Duke he could not find it in his heart to mourn; with Joan to wife, and my Lord Foxham for a faithful patron, he looked most happily upon the future; and in the past he found but little to regret.
As he thus strolled and pondered, the solemn light of the morning grew more clear, the east was already coloured by the sun, and a little scathing wind blew up the frozen snow. He turned to go home; but even as he turned, his eye lit upon a figure behind, a tree.
“Stand!” he cried. “Who goes?”
The figure stepped forth and waved its hand like a dumb person. It was arrayed like a pilgrim, the hood lowered over the face, but Dick, in an instant, recognised Sir Daniel.
He strode up to him, drawing his sword; and the knight, putting his hand in his bosom, as if to seize a hidden weapon, steadfastly awaited his approach.
“Well, Dickon,” said Sir Daniel, “how is it to be? Do ye make war upon the fallen?”
“I made no war upon your life,” replied the lad; “I was your true friend until ye sought for mine; but ye have sought for it greedily.”
“Nay — self-defence,” replied the knight. “And now, boy, the news of this battle, and the presence of yon crooked devil here in mine own wood, have broken me beyond all help. I go to Holywood for sanctuary; thence overseas, with what I can carry, and to begin life again in Burgundy or France.”
“Ye may not go to Holywood,” said Dick.
“How! May not?” asked the knight.
“Look ye, Sir Daniel, this is my marriage morn,” said Dick; “and yon sun that is to rise will make the brightest day that ever shone for me. Your life is forfeit — doubly forfeit, for my father’s death and your own practices to meward. But I myself have done amiss; I have brought about men’s deaths; and upon this glad day I will be neither judge nor hangman. An ye were the devil, I would not lay a hand on you. An ye were the devil, ye might go where ye will for me. Seek God’s forgiveness; mine ye have freely. But to go on to Holywood is different. I carry arms for York, and I will suffer no spy within their lines. Hold it, then, for certain, if ye set one foot before another, I will uplift my voice and call the nearest post to seize you.”
“Ye mock me,” said Sir Daniel. “I have no safety out of Holywood.”
“I care no more,” returned Richard. “I let you go east, west, or south; north I will not. Holywood is shut against you. Go, and seek not to return. For, once ye are gone, I will warn every post about this army, and there will be so shrewd a watch upon all pilgrims that, once again, were ye the very devil, ye would find it ruin to make the essay.”
“Ye doom me,” said Sir Daniel, gloomily.
“I doom you not,” returned Richard. “If it so please you to set your valour against mine, come on; and though I fear it be disloyal to my party, I will take the challenge openly and fully, fight you with mine own single strength, and call for none to help me. So shall I avenge my father, with a perfect conscience.”
“Ay,” said Sir Daniel, “y’ have a long sword against my dagger.”
“I rely upon Heaven only,” answered Dick, casting his sword some way behind him on the snow. “Now, if your ill-fate bids you, come; and, under the pleasure of the Almighty, I make myself bold to feed your bones to foxes.”
“I did but try you, Dickon,” returned the knight, with an uneasy semblance of a laugh. “I would not spill your blood.”
“Go, then, ere it be too late,” replied Shelton. “In five minutes I will call the post. I do perceive that I am too long-suffering. Had but our places been reversed, I should have been bound hand and foot some minutes past.”
“Well, Dickon, I will go,” replied Sir Daniel. “When we next meet, it shall repent you that ye were so harsh.”
And with these words, the knight turned and began to move off under the trees. Dick watched him with strangely-mingled feelings, as he went, swiftly and warily, and ever and again turning a wicked eye upon the lad who had spared him, and whom he still suspected.
There was upon one side of where he went a thicket, strongly matted with green ivy, and, even in its winter state, impervious to the eye. Herein, all of a sudden, a bow sounded like a note of music. An arrow flew, and with a great, choked cry of agony and anger, the Knight of Tunstall threw up his hands and fell forward in the snow.
Dick bounded to his side and raised him. His face desperately worked; his whole body was shaken by contorting spasms.
“Is the arrow black?” he gasped.
“It is black,” replied Dick, gravely.
And then, before he could add one word, a desperate seizure of pain shook the wounded man from head to foot, so that his body leaped in Dick’s supporting arms, and with the extremity of that pang his spirit fled in silence.
The young man laid him back gently on the snow and prayed for that unprepared and guilty spirit, and as he prayed the sun came up at a bound, and the robins began chirping in the ivy.
When he rose to his feet, he found another man upon his knees but a few steps behind him, and, still with uncovered head, he waited until that prayer also should be over. It took long; the man, with his head bowed and his face covered with his hands, prayed like one in a great disorder or distress of mind; and by the bow that lay beside him, Dick judged that he was no other than the archer who had laid Sir Daniel low.
At length he, also, rose, and showed the countenance of Ellis Duckworth.
“Richard,” he said, very gravely, “I heard you. Ye took the better part and pardoned; I took the worse, and there lies the clay of mine enemy. Pray for me.”
And he wrung him by the hand.
“Sir,” said Richard, “I will pray for you, indeed; though how I may prevail I wot not. But if ye have so long pursued revenge, and find it now of such a sorry flavour, bethink ye, were it not well to pardon others? Hatch — he is dead, poor shrew! I would have spared a better; and for Sir Daniel, here lies his body. But for the priest, if I might anywise prevail, I would have you let him go.”
A flash came into the eyes of Ellis Duckworth.
“Nay,” he said, “the devil is still strong within me. But be at rest; the Black Arrow flieth nevermore — the fellowship is broken. They that still live shall come to their quiet and ripe end, in Heaven’s good time, for me; and for yourself, go where your better fortune calls you, and think no more of Ellis.”
About nine in the morning, Lord Foxham was leading his ward, once more dressed as befitted her sex, and followed by Alicia Risingham, to the church of Holywood, when Richard Crookback, his brow already heavy with cares, crossed their path and paused.
“Is this the maid?” he asked; and when Lord Foxham had replied in the affirmative, “Minion,” he added, “hold up your face until I see its favour.”
He looked upon her sourly for a little.
“Ye are fair,” he said at last, “and, as they tell me, dowered. How if I offered you a brave marriage, as became your face and parentage?”
“My lord duke,” replied Joanna, “may it please your grace, I had rather wed with Sir Richard.”
“How so?” he asked, harshly. “Marry but the man I name to you, and he shall be my lord, and you my lady, before night. For Sir Richard, let me tell you plainly, he will die Sir Richard.”
“I ask no more of Heaven, my lord, than but to die Sir Richard’s wife,” returned Joanna.
“Look ye at that, my lord,” said Gloucester, turning to Lord Foxham. “Here be a pair for you. The lad, when for good services I gave him his choice of my favour, chose but the grace of an old, drunken shipman. I did warn him freely, but he was stout in his besottedness. ‘Here dieth your favour,’ said I; and he, my lord, with a most assured impertinence, ‘Mine be the loss,’ quoth he. It shall be so, by the rood!”
“Said he so?” cried Alicia. “Then well said, lion-driver!”
“Who is this?” asked the duke.
“A prisoner of Sir Richard’s,” answered Lord Foxham; “Mistress Alicia Risingham.”
“See that she be married to a sure man,” said the duke.
“I had thought of my kinsman, Hamley, an it like your grace,” returned Lord Foxham. “He hath well served the cause.”
“It likes me well,” said Richard. “Let them be wedded speedily. Say, fair maid, will you wed?”
“My lord duke,” said Alicia, “so as the man is straight”— And there, in a perfect consternation, the voice died on her tongue.
“He is straight, my mistress,” replied Richard, calmly. “I am the only crookback of my party; we are else passably well shapen. Ladies, and you, my lord,” he added, with a sudden change to grave courtesy, “judge me not too churlish if I leave you. A captain, in the time of war, hath not the ordering of his hours.”
And with a very handsome salutation he passed on, followed by his officers.
“Alack,” cried Alicia, “I am shent!”
“Ye know him not,” replied Lord Foxham. “It is but a trifle; he hath already clean forgot your words.”
“He is, then, the very flower of knighthood,” said Alicia.
“Nay, he but mindeth other things,” returned Lord Foxham. “Tarry we no more.”
In the chancel they found Dick waiting, attended by a few young men; and there were he and Joan united. When they came forth again, happy and yet serious, into the frosty air and sunlight, the long files of the army were already winding forward up the road; already the Duke of Gloucester’s banner was unfolded and began to move from before the abbey in a clump of spears; and behind it, girt by steel-clad knights, the bold, black-hearted, and ambitious hunchback moved on towards his brief kingdom and his lasting infamy. But the wedding party turned upon the other side, and sat down, with sober merriment, to breakfast. The father cellarer attended on their wants, and sat with them at table. Hamley, all jealousy forgotten, began to ply the nowise loth Alicia with courtship. And there, amid the sounding of tuckets and the clash of armoured soldiery and horses continually moving forth, Dick and Joan sat side by side, tenderly held hands, and looked, with ever growing affection, in each other’s eyes.
Thenceforth the dust and blood of that unruly epoch passed them by. They dwelt apart from alarms in the green forest where their love began.
Two old men in the meanwhile enjoyed pensions in great prosperity and peace, and with perhaps a superfluity of ale and wine, in Tunstall hamlet. One had been all his life a shipman, and continued to the last to lament his man Tom. The other, who had been a bit of everything, turned in the end towards piety, and made a most religious death under the name of Brother Honestus in the neighbouring abbey. So Lawless had his will, and died a friar.
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55