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Chapter 14


BOOK III - MY LORD FOXHAM : CHAPTER I - THE HOUSE BY THE SHORE

Months had passed away since Richard Shelton made his escape from
the hands of his guardian.  These months had been eventful for
England.  The party of Lancaster, which was then in the very
article of death, had once more raised its head.  The Yorkists
defeated and dispersed, their leader butchered on the field, it
seemed, - for a very brief season in the winter following upon the
events already recorded, as if the House of Lancaster had finally
triumphed over its foes.

The small town of Shoreby-on-the-Till was full of the Lancastrian
nobles of the neighbourhood.  Earl Risingham was there, with three
hundred men-at-arms; Lord Shoreby, with two hundred; Sir Daniel
himself, high in favour and once more growing rich on
confiscations, lay in a house of his own, on the main street, with
three-score men.  The world had changed indeed.

It was a black, bitter cold evening in the first week of January,
with a hard frost, a high wind, and every likelihood of snow before
the morning.

In an obscure alehouse in a by-street near the harbour, three or
four men sat drinking ale and eating a hasty mess of eggs.  They
were all likely, lusty, weather-beaten fellows, hard of hand, bold
of eye; and though they wore plain tabards, like country ploughmen,
even a drunken soldier might have looked twice before he sought a
quarrel in such company.

A little apart before the huge fire sat a younger man, almost a
boy, dressed in much the same fashion, though it was easy to see by
his looks that he was better born, and might have worn a sword, had
the time suited.

"Nay," said one of the men at the table, "I like it not.  Ill will
come of it.  This is no place for jolly fellows.  A jolly fellow
loveth open country, good cover, and scarce foes; but here we are
shut in a town, girt about with enemies; and, for the bull's-eye of
misfortune, see if it snow not ere the morning."

"'Tis for Master Shelton there," said another, nodding his head
towards the lad before the fire.

"I will do much for Master Shelton," returned the first; "but to
come to the gallows for any man - nay, brothers, not that!"

The door of the inn opened, and another man entered hastily and
approached the youth before the fire.

"Master Shelton," he said, "Sir Daniel goeth forth with a pair of
links and four archers."

Dick (for this was our young friend) rose instantly to his feet.

"Lawless," he said, "ye will take John Capper's watch.  Greensheve,
follow with me.  Capper, lead forward.  We will follow him this
time, an he go to York."

The next moment they were outside in the dark street, and Capper,
the man who had just come, pointed to where two torches flared in
the wind at a little distance.

The town was already sound asleep; no one moved upon the streets,
and there was nothing easier than to follow the party without
observation.  The two link-bearers went first; next followed a
single man, whose long cloak blew about him in the wind; and the
rear was brought up by the four archers, each with his bow upon his
arm.  They moved at a brisk walk, threading the intricate lanes and
drawing nearer to the shore.

"He hath gone each night in this direction?" asked Dick, in a
whisper.

"This is the third night running, Master Shelton," returned Capper,
"and still at the same hour and with the same small following, as
though his end were secret."

Sir Daniel and his six men were now come to the outskirts of the
country.  Shoreby was an open town, and though the Lancastrian
lords who lay there kept a strong guard on the main roads, it was
still possible to enter or depart unseen by any of the lesser
streets or across the open country.

The lane which Sir Daniel had been following came to an abrupt end.
Before him there was a stretch of rough down, and the noise of the
sea-surf was audible upon one hand.  There were no guards in the
neighbourhood, nor any light in that quarter of the town.

Dick and his two outlaws drew a little closer to the object of
their chase, and presently, as they came forth from between the
houses and could see a little farther upon either hand, they were
aware of another torch drawing near from another direction.

"Hey," said Dick, "I smell treason."

Meanwhile, Sir Daniel had come to a full halt.  The torches were
stuck into the sand, and the men lay down, as if to await the
arrival of the other party.

This drew near at a good rate.  It consisted of four men only - a
pair of archers, a varlet with a link, and a cloaked gentleman
walking in their midst.

"Is it you, my lord?" cried Sir Daniel.

"It is I, indeed; and if ever true knight gave proof I am that
man," replied the leader of the second troop; "for who would not
rather face giants, sorcerers, or pagans, than this pinching cold?"

"My lord," returned Sir Daniel, "beauty will be the more beholden,
misdoubt it not.  But shall we forth? for the sooner ye have seen
my merchandise, the sooner shall we both get home."

"But why keep ye her here, good knight?" inquired the other.  "An
she be so young, and so fair, and so wealthy, why do ye not bring
her forth among her mates?  Ye would soon make her a good marriage,
and no need to freeze your fingers and risk arrow-shots by going
abroad at such untimely seasons in the dark."

"I have told you, my lord," replied Sir Daniel, "the reason thereof
concerneth me only.  Neither do I purpose to explain it farther.
Suffice it, that if ye be weary of your old gossip, Daniel
Brackley, publish it abroad that y' are to wed Joanna Sedley, and I
give you my word ye will be quit of him right soon.  Ye will find
him with an arrow in his back."

Meantime the two gentlemen were walking briskly forward over the
down; the three torches going before them, stooping against the
wind and scattering clouds of smoke and tufts of flame, and the
rear brought up by the six archers.

Close upon the heels of these, Dick followed.  He had, of course,
heard no word of this conversation; but he had recognised in the
second of the speakers old Lord Shoreby himself, a man of an
infamous reputation, whom even Sir Daniel affected, in public, to
condemn.

Presently they came close down upon the beach.  The air smelt salt;
the noise of the surf increased; and here, in a large walled
garden, there stood a small house of two storeys, with stables and
other offices.

The foremost torch-bearer unlocked a door in the wall, and after
the whole party had passed into the garden, again closed and locked
it on the other side.

Dick and his men were thus excluded from any farther following,
unless they should scale the wall and thus put their necks in a
trap.

They sat down in a tuft of furze and waited.  The red glow of the
torches moved up and down and to and fro within the enclosure, as
if the link bearers steadily patrolled the garden.

Twenty minutes passed, and then the whole party issued forth again
upon the down; and Sir Daniel and the baron, after an elaborate
salutation, separated and turned severally homeward, each with his
own following of men and lights.

As soon as the sound of their steps had been swallowed by the wind,
Dick got to his feet as briskly as he was able, for he was stiff
and aching with the cold.

"Capper, ye will give me a back up," he said.

They advanced, all three, to the wall; Capper stooped, and Dick,
getting upon his shoulders, clambered on to the cope-stone.

"Now, Greensheve," whispered Dick, "follow me up here; lie flat
upon your face, that ye may be the less seen; and be ever ready to
give me a hand if I fall foully on the other side."

And so saying he dropped into the garden.

It was all pitch dark; there was no light in the house.  The wind
whistled shrill among the poor shrubs, and the surf beat upon the
beach; there was no other sound.  Cautiously Dick footed it forth,
stumbling among bushes, and groping with his hands; and presently
the crisp noise of gravel underfoot told him that he had struck
upon an alley.

Here he paused, and taking his crossbow from where he kept it
concealed under his long tabard, he prepared it for instant action,
and went forward once more with greater resolution and assurance.
The path led him straight to the group of buildings.

All seemed to be sorely dilapidated:  the windows of the house were
secured by crazy shutters; the stables were open and empty; there
was no hay in the hay-loft, no corn in the corn-box.  Any one would
have supposed the place to be deserted.  But Dick had good reason
to think otherwise.  He continued his inspection, visiting the
offices, trying all the windows.  At length he came round to the
sea-side of the house, and there, sure enough, there burned a pale
light in one of the upper windows.

He stepped back a little way, till he thought he could see the
movement of a shadow on the wall of the apartment.  Then he
remembered that, in the stable, his groping hand had rested for a
moment on a ladder, and he returned with all despatch to bring it.
The ladder was very short, but yet, by standing on the topmost
round, he could bring his hands as high as the iron bars of the
window; and seizing these, he raised his body by main force until
his eyes commanded the interior of the room.

Two persons were within; the first he readily knew to be Dame
Hatch; the second, a tall and beautiful and grave young lady, in a
long, embroidered dress - could that be Joanna Sedley? his old
wood-companion, Jack, whom he had thought to punish with a belt?

He dropped back again to the top round of the ladder in a kind of
amazement.  He had never thought of his sweetheart as of so
superior a being, and he was instantly taken with a feeling of
diffidence.  But he had little opportunity for thought.  A low
"Hist!" sounded from close by, and he hastened to descend the
ladder.

"Who goes?" he whispered.

"Greensheve," came the reply, in tones similarly guarded.

"What want ye?" asked Dick.

"The house is watched, Master Shelton," returned the outlaw.  "We
are not alone to watch it; for even as I lay on my belly on the
wall I saw men prowling in the dark, and heard them whistle softly
one to the other."

"By my sooth," said Dick, "but this is passing strange!  Were they
not men of Sir Daniel's?"

"Nay, sir, that they were not," returned Greensheve; "for if I have
eyes in my head, every man-Jack of them weareth me a white badge in
his bonnet, something chequered with dark."

"White, chequered with dark," repeated Dick.  "Faith, 'tis a badge
I know not.  It is none of this country's badges.  Well, an that be
so, let us slip as quietly forth from this garden as we may; for
here we are in an evil posture for defence.  Beyond all question
there are men of Sir Daniel's in that house, and to be taken
between two shots is a beggarman's position.  Take me this ladder;
I must leave it where I found it."

They returned the ladder to the stable, and groped their way to the
place where they had entered.

Capper had taken Greensheve's position on the cope, and now he
leaned down his hand, and, first one and then the other, pulled
them up.

Cautiously and silently, they dropped again upon the other side;
nor did they dare to speak until they had returned to their old
ambush in the gorse.

"Now, John Capper," said Dick, "back with you to Shoreby, even as
for your life.  Bring me instantly what men ye can collect.  Here
shall be the rendezvous; or if the men be scattered and the day be
near at hand before they muster, let the place be something farther
back, and by the entering in of the town.  Greensheve and I lie
here to watch.  Speed ye, John Capper, and the saints aid you to
despatch.  And now, Greensheve," he continued, as soon as Capper
had departed, "let thou and I go round about the garden in a wide
circuit.  I would fain see whether thine eyes betrayed thee."

Keeping well outwards from the wall, and profiting by every height
and hollow, they passed about two sides, beholding nothing.  On the
third side the garden wall was built close upon the beach, and to
preserve the distance necessary to their purpose, they had to go
some way down upon the sands.  Although the tide was still pretty
far out, the surf was so high, and the sands so flat, that at each
breaker a great sheet of froth and water came careering over the
expanse, and Dick and Greensheve made this part of their inspection
wading, now to the ankles, and now as deep as to the knees, in the
salt and icy waters of the German Ocean.

Suddenly, against the comparative whiteness of the garden wall, the
figure of a man was seen, like a faint Chinese shadow, violently
signalling with both arms.  As he dropped again to the earth,
another arose a little farther on and repeated the same
performance.  And so, like a silent watch word, these
gesticulations made the round of the beleaguered garden.

"They keep good watch," Dick whispered.

"Let us back to land, good master," answered Greensheve.  "We stand
here too open; for, look ye, when the seas break heavy and white
out there behind us, they shall see us plainly against the foam."

"Ye speak sooth," returned Dick.  "Ashore with us, right speedily."


Robert Louis Stevenson