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Early the next morning, after Richard had left the cottage for Raglan castle, mistress Rees was awaked by the sound of a heavy blow against her door. When with difficulty she had opened it, Richard or his dead body, she knew not which, fell across her threshold. Like poor Marquis, he had come to her for help and healing.
When he got out of the quarry, he made for the highroad, but missing the way the dog had brought him, had some hard work in reaching it; and long before he arrived--at the cottage, what with his wound, his loss of blood, his double wetting, his sleeplessness after mistress Watson's potion, want of food, disappointment and fatigue, he was in a high fever. The last mile or two he had walked in delirium, but happily with the one dominant idea of getting help from mother Rees. The poor woman was greatly shocked to find that the teeth of the trap had closed upon her favourite and mangled him so terribly. A drop or two of one of her restoratives, however, soon brought him round so far that he was able to crawl to the chair on which he had sat the night before, now ages agone as it seemed, where he now sat shivering and glowing alternately, until with trembling hands the good woman had prepared her own bed for him.
'Thou hast left thy doublet behind thee,' she said, 'and I warrant me the cake I gave thee in the pouch thereof! Hadst thou eaten of that, thou hadst not come to this pass.'
But Richard scarcely heard her voice. His one mental consciousness was the longing desire to lay his aching head on the pillow, and end all effort.
Finding his wound appeared very tolerably dressed, Mrs. Rees would not disturb the bandages. She gave him a cooling draught, and watched by him till he fell asleep. Then she tidied her house, dressed herself, and got everything in order for nursing him. She would have sent at once to Redware to let his father know where and in what condition he was, but not a single person came near the cottage the whole day, and she dared not leave him before the fever had subsided. He raved a good deal, generally in the delusion that he was talking to Dorothy--who sought to kill him, and to whom he kept giving directions, at one time how to guide the knife to reach his heart, at another how to mingle her poison so that it should act with speed and certainty.
At length one fine evening in early autumn, when the red sun shone level through the window of the little room where he lay, and made a red glory on the wall, he came to himself a little.
'Is it blood?' he murmured. 'Did Dorothy do it?--How foolish I am! It is but a blot the sun has left behind him!--Ah! I see! I am dead and lying on the top of my tomb. I am only marble. This is Redware church. Oh, mother Rees, is it you! I am very glad! Cover me over a little. The pall there.'
His eyes closed, and for a few hours he lay in a deep sleep, from which he awoke very weak, but clear-headed. He remembered nothing, however, since leaving the quarry, except what appeared a confused dream of wandering through an interminable night of darkness, weariness, and pain. His first words were,--
'I must get up, mother Rees: my father will be anxious about me. Besides, I promised to set out for Gloucester to-day.'
She sought to quiet him, but in vain, and was at last compelled to inform him that his father, finding he did not return, had armed himself, mounted Oliver, and himself led his little company to join the earl of Essex--who was now on his way, at the head of an army consisting chiefly of the trained bands of London, to raise the siege of Gloucester.
Richard started up, and would have leaped from the bed, but fell back helpless and unconscious. When at length his nurse had succeeded in restoring him, she had much ado to convince him that the best thing in all respects was to lie still and submit to be nursed--so to get well as soon as possible, and join his father.
'Alas, mother, I have no horse,' said Richard, and hid his face on the pillow.
'The Lord will provide what thee wants, my son,' said the old woman with emotion, neither asking nor caring whether the Lord was on the side of the king or of the parliament, but as little doubting that he must be on the side of Richard.
He soon began to eat hopefully, and after a day or two she found pretty nearly employment enough in cooking for him.
At last, weak as he still was, he would be restrained no longer. To Gloucester he must go, and relieve his father. Expostulation was unavailing: go he must, he said, or his soul would tear itself out of his body, and go without it.
'Besides, mother, I shall be getting better all the way,' he continued. '--I must go home at once and see whether there is anything left to go upon.'
He rose the same instant, and, regardless of the good woman's entreaties, crawled out to go to Redware. She followed him at a little distance, and, before he had walked a quarter of a mile, he was ready to accept her offered arm to help him back. But his recovery was now very rapid, and. after a few days he felt able for the journey.
At home he found a note from his father, telling him where to find money, and informing him that he was ready to yield him Oliver the moment he should appear to claim him. Richard put on his armour, and went to the stable. The weather had been fine, and the harvest was wearing gradually to a close; but the few horses that were left were overworked, for the necessities of the war had been severe, and that part of the country had responded liberally on both sides. Besides, Mr. Heywood had scarce left an animal judged at all fit to carry a man and keep up with the troop.
When Richard reached the stable, there were in it but three, two of which, having brought loads to the barn, were now having their mid-day meal and rest. The first one was ancient in bones, with pits profound above his eyes, and grey hairs all about a face which had once been black.
'Thou art but fit for old Father Time to lay his scythe across when he is aweary,' said Richard, and turned to the next.
She was a huge-bodied, short-legged punch, as fat as butter, with lop ears and sleepy eyes. Having finished her corn, she was churning away at a mangerful of grass.
'Thou wouldst burst thy belly at the first charge,' said Richard, and was approaching the third, one he did not recognise, when a vicious, straight-out kick informed him that here was temper at least, probably then spirit. But when he came near enough to see into the stall, there stood the ugliest brute he thought that ever ate barley. He was very long-bodied and rather short-legged, with great tufts at his fetlocks, and the general look of a huge rat, in part doubtless from having no hair on his long undocked tail. He was biting vigorously at his manger, and Richard could see the white of one eye glaring at him askance in the gloom.
'Dunnot go nigh him, sir,' cried Jacob Fortune, who had come up behind. 'Thou knows not his tricks. His name be his nature, and we call him Beelzebub when master Stopchase be not by. I be right glad to see your honour up again.'
Jacob was too old to go to the wars, and too indifferent to regret it; but he was faithful, and had authority over the few men left.
'I thank you, Jacob,' said Richard. 'What brute is this? I know him not.'
'We all knows him too well, master Richard, though verily Stopchase bought him but the day before he rode, thinking belike he might carry an ear or two of wheat. If he be not very good he was not parlous dear; he paid for him but an old song. He was warranted to have work in him if a man but knew how to get it out.'
'He is ugly.'
'He is the ugliest horse, cart-horse, nag, or courser, on this creation-side,' said the old man, '--ugly enough to fright to death where he doth fail in his endeavour to kill. The men are all mortal feared on him, for he do kick and he do bite like the living Satan. He wonnot go in no cart, but there he do stand eating on his head off as fast as he can. An' the brute were mine, I would slay him; I would, in good sooth.'
'An' I had but time to cure him of his evil kicking! I fear I must ever ride the last in the troop,' said Richard.
'Why for sure, master, thee never will ride such a devil-pig as he to the wars! Will Farrier say he do believe he take his strain from the swine the devils go into in the miracle. All the children would make a mock of thee as thou did ride through the villages. Look at his legs: they do be like stile-posts; and do but look at his tail!'
'Lead him out, Jacob, and let me see his head.'
'I dare not go nigh him, sir. I be not nimble enough to get out of the way of his hoof. 'I be too old, master.'
Richard pulled on his thick buff glove and went straight into his stall. The brute made a grab at him with his teeth, met by a smart blow from Richard's fist, which he did not like, and, rearing, would have struck at him with his near fore-foot; but Richard caught it by the pastern, and with his left hand again struck him on the side of the mouth. The brute then submitted to be led out by the halter. And verily he was ugly to behold. His neck stuck straight out, and so did his tail, but the latter went off in a point, and the former in a hideous knob.
'Here is Jack!' cried the old man. 'He lets Jack ride him to the water. Here, Jack! Get thee upon the hog-back of Beelzebub, and mind the bristles do not flay thee, and let master Richard see what paces he hath.'
The animal tried to take the lad down with his hind foot as he mounted, but scarcely was he seated when he set off at a swinging trot, in which he plied his posts in manner astonishing. Spirit indeed he must have had, and plenty, to wield such clubs in such a fashion. His joints were so loose that the bones seemed to fly about, yet they always came down right.
'He is guilty of "hypocrisy against the devil,"' said Richard: 'he is better than he looks. Anyhow, if he but carry me thither, he will as well "fill a pit" as a handsomer horse. I'll take him. Have you got a saddle for him?'
'An' he had not brought a saddle with him, thou would not find one in Gwent to fit him,' said the old man.
Yet another day Richard found himself compelled to tarry--which he spent in caparisoning Beelzebub to the best of his ability, with the result of making him, if possible, appear still uglier than before.
The eve of the day of his departure, Marquis paid mistress Rees a second visit. He wanted no healing or help this time, seeming to have come only to offer his respects. But the knowledge that here was a messenger, dumb and discreet, ready to go between and make no sign, set Richard longing to use him: what message he did send by him I have already recorded. Although, however, the dog left them that night, he did not reach Raglan till the second morning after, and must have been roaming the country or paying other visits all that night and the next day as well, with the letter about him, which he had allowed no one to touch.
At last Richard was on his way to Gloucester, mounted on Beelzebub, and much stared at by the inhabitants of every village he passed through. Apparently, however, there was something about the centaur-compound which prevented their rudeness from going farther. Beelzebub bore him well, and, though not a comfortable horse to ride, threw the road behind him at a wonderful rate, as often and as long as Richard was able to bear it. But he found himself stronger after every rest, and by the time he began to draw nigh to Gloucester, he was nearly as well as ever, and in excellent spirits; one painful thought only haunting him--the fear that he might, mounted on Beelzebub, have to encounter some one on his beloved mare. He was consoled, however, to think that the brute was less dangerous to one before than one behind him, heels being worse than teeth.
He soon became aware that something decisive had taken place: either Gloucester had fallen, or Essex had raised the siege, for army there was none, though the signs of a lately upbroken encampment were visible on all sides. Presently, inquiring at the gate, he learned that, on the near approach of Essex, the besieging army had retired, and that, after a few days' rest, the general had turned again in the direction of London. Richard, therefore, having fed Beelzebub and eaten his own dinner, which in his present condition was more necessary than usual to his being of service, mounted his hideous charger once more, and pushed on to get up with the army.
Essex had not taken the direct road to London, but kept to the southward. That same day he followed him as far as Swindon, and found he was coming up with him rapidly. Having rested a short night, he reached Hungerford the next morning, which he found in great commotion because of the intelligence that at Newbury, some seven miles distant only, Essex had found his way stopped by the king, and that a battle had been raging ever since the early morning.
Having given his horse a good feed of oats and a draught of ale, Richard mounted again and rode hard for Newbury. Nor had he rode long before he heard the straggling reports of carbines, looked to the priming of his pistols, and loosened his sword in its sheath. When he got under the wall of Craven park, the sounds of conflict grew suddenly plainer. He could distinguish the noise of horses' hoofs, and now and then the confused cries and shouts of hand-to-hand conflict. At Spain he was all but in it, for there he met wounded men, retiring slowly or carried by their comrades. These were of his own part, but he did not stop to ask any questions. Beelzebub snuffed at the fumes of the gunpowder, and seemed therefrom to derive fresh vigour.
The lanes and hedges between Spein and Newbury had been the scenes of many a sanguinary tussle that morning, for nowhere had either army found room to deploy. Some of them had been fought over more than once or twice. But just before Richard came up, the tide had ebbed from that part of the way, for Essex's men had had some advantage, and had driven the king's men through the town and over the bridge, so that he found the road clear, save of wounded men and a few horses. As he reached Spinhamland, and turned sharp to the right into the main street of Newbury, a bullet from the pistol of a royalist officer who lay wounded struck Beelzebub on the crest--what of a crest he had--and without injuring made him so furious that his rider had much ado to keep him from mischief. For, at the very moment, they were met by a rush of parliament pikemen, retreating, as he could see, over their heads, from a few of the kings cavalry, who came at a sharp trot down the main street. The pikemen had got into disorder pursuing some of the enemy who had divided and gone to the right and left up the two diverging streets, and when the cavalry appeared at the top of the main street, both parts, seeing themselves in danger of being surrounded, had retreated. They were now putting the Kennet with its narrow bridge between them and the long-feathered cavaliers, in the hope of gaining time and fit ground for forming and presenting a bristled front. In the midst of this confused mass of friends Richard found himself, the maddened Beelzebub every moment lashing out behind him when not rearing or biting.
Before him the bridge rose steep to its crown, contracting as it rose. At its foot, where it widened to the street, stood a single horseman, shouting impatiently to the last of the pikemen, and spurring his horse while holding him. As the last man cleared the bridge, he gave him rein, and with a bound and a scramble reached the apex, and stood--within half a neck of the foremost of the cavalier troop. A fierce combat instantly began between them. The bridge was wide enough for two to have fought side by side, but the roundhead contrived so to work his antagonist, who was a younger but less capable and less powerful man, that no comrade could get up beside him for the to-and-fro shifting of his horse.
Meantime Richard had been making his slow way through the swarm of hurrying pikemen, doing what he could to keep them off Beelzebub. The moment he was clear, he made a great bolt for the bridge, and the same moment perceived who the brave man was.
'Hold on, sir,' he shouted. 'Hold your own, father! Here I am! Here is Richard!'
And as he shouted he sent Beelzebub, like low-flying bolt from cross-bow, up the steep crown of the bridge, and wedged him in between Oliver and the parapet, just as a second cavalier made a dart for the place. At his horse Beelzebub sprang like a fury, rearing, biting, and striking out with his fore-feet in such manner as quite to make up to his rider for the disadvantage of his low stature. The cavalier's horse recoiled in terror, rearing also, but snorting and backing and wavering, so that, in his endeavours to avoid the fury of Beelzebub, which was frightful to see, for with ears laid back and gleaming teeth he looked more like a beast of prey, he would but for the crowd behind him have fallen backward down the slope. A bullet from one of Richard's pistols sent his rider over his tail, the horse fell sideways against that of Mr. Heywood's antagonist, and the path was for a moment barricaded.
'Well done, good Beelzebub!' cried Richard, as he reined him back on to the crest of the bridge.
'Boy!' said his father sternly, at the same instant dealing his encumbered opponent a blow on the head-piece which tumbled him also from his horse, 'is the sacred hour of victory a time to sully with profane and foolish jests? I little thought to hear such words at my side--not to say from the mouth of my own son!'
'Pardon me, father; I praised my horse,' said Richard. 'I think not he ever had praise before, but it cannot corrupt him, for he is such an ill-conditioned brute that they that named him did name him Beelzebub: Now that he hath once done well, who knoweth but it may cease to fit him!'
'I am glad thy foolish words were so harmless,' returned Mr. Heywood, smiling. 'In my ears they sounded so evil that I could ill accept their testimony.--Verily the animal is marvellous ill-favoured, but, as thou sayest, he hath done well, and the first return we make him shall be to give him another name. The less man or horse hath to do with Satan the better, for what is he but the arch-foe of the truth?'
While they spoke, they kept a keen watch on the enemy--who could not get near to attack them, save with a few pistol-bullets, mostly wide-shot--for both horses were down, and their riders helpless if not slain.
'What shall we call him then, father?' asked Richard.
'He is amazing like a huge rat!' said his father. 'Let us henceforth call him Bishop.'
'Wherefore Bishop and not Beelzebub, sir?' inquired Richard.
Mr. Heywood laughed, but ere he could reply, a large troop of horsemen appeared at the top of the street. Glancing then behind in some anxiety, they saw to their relief that the pikemen had now formed themselves into a hollow square at the foot of the bridge, prepared to receive cavalry. They turned therefore, and, passing through them, rode to find their regiment.
From that day Bishop, notwithstanding his faults many and grievous, was regarded with respect by both father and son, Richard vowing never to mount another, let laugh who would, so long as the brute lived and he had not recovered Lady.
But they had to give him room for two on the march, and the place behind him was always left vacant, which they said gave no more space than he wanted, seeing he kicked out his leg to twice its walking length. Before long, however, they had got so used to his ways that they almost ceased to regard them as faults, and he began to grow a favourite in the regiment.
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