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THE UNTOOTHSOME PLUM.
It was a starry night, with a threatening of moonrise, and Dorothy was anxious to reach the cottage before it grew lighter. But they must not get into the high road at any nearer point than the last practicable, for then they would be more likely to meet soldiers, and Dick's feet to betray their approach. Over field after field, therefore, they kept on, as fast as Tom, now and then stopping to peer anxiously over the next fence or into a boundary ditch, could lead the way. At last they reached the place by the side of a bridge, where Marquis led Richard off the road, and there they scrambled up.
'O Lord!' cried Tom, and waked a sentry dozing on the low parapet.
'Who goes there?' he cried, starting up, and catching at his carbine, which leaned against the wall.
'Oh, master!' began Tom, in a voice of terrified appeal; but Dorothy interrupted him.
'I am an honest woman of the neighbourhood,' she said. 'An' thou wilt come home with me, I will afford thee a better bed than thou hast there, and also a better breakfast, I warrant thee, than thou had a supper.'
'That is, an' thou be one of the godly,' supplemented Tom.
'I thank thee, mistress,' returned the sentinel, 'but not for the indulgence of carnal appetite will I forsake my post. Who is he goeth with thee?'
'A fellow whose wit is greater than his courage, and yet he goeth with many for a born fool. A parlous coward he is, else might he now be fighting the Amalekites with the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. Yet in good sooth he serveth me well for the nonce.'
The sentry glanced at Tom, but could see little of him except a long white oval, and Tom was now collected enough to put in exercise his best wisdom, which consisted in holding his tongue.
'Answer me then, mistress, how, being a godly woman, as I doubt not from thy speech thou art, thee rides thus late with none but a fool to keep thee company? Knowest thou not that the country is full of soldiers, whereof some, though that they be all true-hearted and right-minded men, would not mayhap carry themselves so civil to a woman as corporal Bearbanner? And now, I bethink me, thou comest from the direction of Raglan!'
Here he drew himself up, summoned a voice from his chest a storey or two deeper, and asked in magisterial tone:
'Whence comest thou, woman? and on what business gaddest thou so late?'
'I am come from visiting at a friend's house, and am now almost on my own farm,' answered Dorothy.
The man turned to Tom, and Dorothy began to regret she had brought him: he was trembling visibly, and his mouth was wide open with terror.
'See,' she said, 'how thy gruff voice terrifieth the innocent! If now he should fall in a fit thou wert to blame.'
As she spoke she put her hand in her pocket, and taking from it her untoothsome plum, popped it into Tom's mouth. Instantly he began to make such strange uncouth noises that the sentinel thought he had indeed terrified him into a fit.
'I must get him straightway home. Good-night, friend,' said Dorothy, and giving Dick the rein, she was off like the wind, heedless of the shouts of the sentinel or the feeble cries of pursuing Tom, who, if he could not fight, could run. Following his mistress at great speed, he was instantly lost in the darkness, and the sentinel, who had picketed his horse in a neighbouring field, sat down again on the parapet of the bridge, and began to examine all that Dorothy had said with a wondrous inclination to discover the strong points in it.
Having galloped a little way, Dorothy drew bridle and halted for Tom. As soon as he came up, she released him, and telling him to lay hold of Dick's mane and run alongside, kept him at a fast trot all the way to his mother's house.
The moon had risen before they reached it, and Dorothy was therefore glad, when she dismounted at the gate, to think she need ride no further. But while Tom went in to rouse his mother, she let Dick have a few bites of the grass before taking him into the kitchen--lest the roundheads should find him. The next moment, however, out came Tom in terror, saying there was a man in his mother's closet, and he feared the roundheads were in possession.
'Then take care of thyself, Tom,' said Dorothy; and mounting instantly, she made Dick scramble up into the fields that lay between the cottage and her own house, and set off at full speed across the grass in the moonlight--an ethereal pleasure which not even an anxious secret could blast.
Through a gap in the hedge she had just popped into the second field, when she heard the click of a flint-lock, and a voice she thought she knew ordering her to stand: within a few yards of her was again a roundhead soldier. If she rode away, he would fire at her; that mode of escape therefore she would keep for a last chance. The moon by this time was throwing an unclouded light from more than half a disc upon the field.
Keeping a sharp eye upon the man's movements, she allowed him to come within a pace or two, but the moment he would have taken Dick by the bridle she was three or four yards away.
'Fright not my horse, friend,' she said.--'But how!' she added, suddenly remembering him, 'is it possible? Master Upstill! Gently, gently, little Dick! Master Upstill is an old friend. What! hast thou too turned soldier? Left thy last and lapstone and turned soldier, master Upstill?'
'I have left all and followed him, mistress,' answered Castdown.
'Art sure he called thee, master Upstill?'
'I heard him with my own ears.'
'Called thee to be a shedder of blood, master Upstill?'
'Called me to be a fisher of men, and thee I catch, mistress--thus,' returned the man, stepping quickly forward and making another grasp at Dick's bridle.
It was all Dorothy could do to keep herself from giving him a smart blow across the face with her whip, and riding off. But she gave Dick the cut instead, and sent him yards away.
'Poor Dick! poor Dick!' she said, patting his neck; 'be quiet; master Upstill will do thee no wrong. Be quiet, little man.'
As she thus talked to her genet, Upstill again drew near, now more surly than at first.
'Say what manner of woman art thou?' he demanded with pompous anger. 'Whence comes thou, and whither does thee go?'
'Home,' answered Dorothy.
'What place calls thee home?'
'Why! dost not know me, master Upstill? When I was a little one, thou didst make my shoes for me.'
'I trust it will be forgiven me, mistress. Truly I had ne'er made shoe for thee an' I had foreseen what thee would come to! For I make no farther doubt thou art a consorter with malignants, harlots, and papists.'
Again he clutched at her bridle, and this time, whether it was Dorothy or Dick's fault, with success. Dorothy dropped the bridle, put her hand in her pocket, struck Dick smartly with her whip, and as he reared in consequence, drew it across Upstill's eyes, and so found the chance of administering her bolus.
It was thoroughly effective. The fellow left his hold of the bridle, and began a series of efforts to remove it, which rapidly grew wilder and wilder, until at last his gestures were those of a maniac.
'There!' she cried, as she bounded from him, 'take thy first lesson in good manners. No one can rid thee of that mouthful, which is as thy evil words returned to choke thee!--Thou hadst better keep me in sight,' she added, as she gave Dick his head, 'for no one else can free thee.'
Upstill ceased his futile efforts, caught up his carbine, and fired--not without risk to Dorothy, for he was far too wrathful to take the aim that would have ensured her safety. But she rode on unhurt, meditating how to secure Upstill when she got him to Wyfern, whither she doubted not he would follow her. Her difficulties were not yet past, however, for just as she reached her own ground, she was once again met by the order to stand.
This time it came in a voice which, notwithstanding the anxiety it brought with it, was almost as welcome as well known, and yet made her tremble for the first time that night: it was the voice of Richard Heywood. Dick also seemed to know it, for he stood without a hint from his mistress, while, through the last hedge that parted her from the little yet remaining of the property of her fathers, came the man she loved--an enemy between her and her own.
The marquis's request to be allowed to communicate with the king had been an unfortunate one. It increased suspicion of all kinds, rendered the various reports of the landing of the Irish army under lord Glamorgan more credible, roused the resolution to render all communication impossible, and led to the drawing of a cordon around the place that not a soul should pass unquestioned. The measure would indeed have been unavailing had the garrison been as able as formerly to make sallies; but ever since colonel Morgan received his reinforcement, the issuing troopers had been invariably met at but a few yards from home, and immediately driven in again by largely superior numbers. Still the cordon required a good many more men than the besieging party could well spare without too much weakening their positions, and they had therefore sought the aid of all the gentlemen of puritian politics in the vicinity, and of course that of Mr. Heywood. With the men his father sent, Richard himself offered his services, in the hope that, at the coming fall of the stronghold, he might have a chance of being useful to Dorothy. They had given the cordon a wide extension, in order that an issuing messenger might not perceive his danger until he was too far from the castle to regain it, and then by capturing him might acquire information. Hence it came that posts could be assigned to Richard and his men within such a distance of Redware as admitted of their being with their own people when off duty.
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