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Chapter 15


CHAPTER II - A SKIRMISH IN THE DARK


Thoroughly drenched and chilled, the two adventurers returned to
their position in the gorse.

"I pray Heaven that Capper make good speed!" said Dick.  "I vow a
candle to St. Mary of Shoreby if he come before the hour!"

"Y' are in a hurry, Master Dick?" asked Greensheve.

"Ay, good fellow," answered Dick; "for in that house lieth my lady,
whom I love, and who should these be that lie about her secretly by
night?  Unfriends, for sure!"

"Well," returned Greensheve, "an John come speedily, we shall give
a good account of them.  They are not two score at the outside - I
judge so by the spacing of their sentries - and, taken where they
are, lying so widely, one score would scatter them like sparrows.
And yet, Master Dick, an she be in Sir Daniel's power already, it
will little hurt that she should change into another's.  Who should
these be?"

"I do suspect the Lord of Shoreby," Dick replied.  "When came
they?"

"They began to come, Master Dick," said Greensheve, "about the time
ye crossed the wall.  I had not lain there the space of a minute
ere I marked the first of the knaves crawling round the corner."

The last light had been already extinguished in the little house
when they were wading in the wash of the breakers, and it was
impossible to predict at what moment the lurking men about the
garden wall might make their onslaught.  Of two evils, Dick
preferred the least.  He preferred that Joanna should remain under
the guardianship of Sir Daniel rather than pass into the clutches
of Lord Shoreby; and his mind was made up, if the house should be
assaulted, to come at once to the relief of the besieged.

But the time passed, and still there was no movement.  From quarter
of an hour to quarter of an hour the same signal passed about the
garden wall, as if the leader desired to assure himself of the
vigilance of his scattered followers; but in every other particular
the neighbourhood of the little house lay undisturbed.

Presently Dick's reinforcements began to arrive.  The night was not
yet old before nearly a score of men crouched beside him in the
gorse.

Separating these into two bodies, he took the command of the
smaller himself, and entrusted the larger to the leadership of
Greensheve.

"Now, Kit," said he to this last, "take me your men to the near
angle of the garden wall upon the beach.  Post them strongly, and
wait till that ye hear me falling on upon the other side.  It is
those upon the sea front that I would fain make certain of, for
there will be the leader.  The rest will run; even let them.  And
now, lads, let no man draw an arrow; ye will but hurt friends.
Take to the steel, and keep to the steel; and if we have the
uppermost, I promise every man of you a gold noble when I come to
mine estate."

Out of the odd collection of broken men, thieves, murderers, and
ruined peasantry, whom Duckworth had gathered together to serve the
purposes of his revenge, some of the boldest and the most
experienced in war had volunteered to follow Richard Shelton.  The
service of watching Sir Daniel's movements in the town of Shoreby
had from the first been irksome to their temper, and they had of
late begun to grumble loudly and threaten to disperse.  The
prospect of a sharp encounter and possible spoils restored them to
good humour, and they joyfully prepared for battle.

Their long tabards thrown aside, they appeared, some in plain green
jerkins, and some in stout leathern jacks; under their hoods many
wore bonnets strengthened by iron plates; and, for offensive
armour, swords, daggers, a few stout boar-spears, and a dozen of
bright bills, put them in a posture to engage even regular feudal
troops.  The bows, quivers, and tabards were concealed among the
gorse, and the two bands set resolutely forward.

Dick, when he had reached the other side of the house, posted his
six men in a line, about twenty yards from the garden wall, and
took position himself a few paces in front.  Then they all shouted
with one voice, and closed upon the enemy.

These, lying widely scattered, stiff with cold, and taken at
unawares, sprang stupidly to their feet, and stood undecided.
Before they had time to get their courage about them, or even to
form an idea of the number and mettle of their assailants, a
similar shout of onslaught sounded in their ears from the far side
of the enclosure.  Thereupon they gave themselves up for lost and
ran.

In this way the two small troops of the men of the Black Arrow
closed upon the sea front of the garden wall, and took a part of
the strangers, as it were, between two fires; while the whole of
the remainder ran for their lives in different directions, and were
soon scattered in the darkness.

For all that, the fight was but beginning.  Dick's outlaws,
although they had the advantage of the surprise, were still
considerably outnumbered by the men they had surrounded.  The tide
had flowed, in the meanwhile; the beach was narrowed to a strip;
and on this wet field, between the surf and the garden wall, there
began, in the darkness, a doubtful, furious, and deadly contest.

The strangers were well armed; they fell in silence upon their
assailants; and the affray became a series of single combats.
Dick, who had come first into the mellay, was engaged by three; the
first he cut down at the first blow, but the other two coming upon
him, hotly, he was fain to give ground before their onset.  One of
these two was a huge fellow, almost a giant for stature, and armed
with a two-handed sword, which he brandished like a switch.
Against this opponent, with his reach of arm and the length and
weight of his weapon, Dick and his bill were quite defenceless; and
had the other continued to join vigorously in the attack, the lad
must have indubitably fallen.  This second man, however, less in
stature and slower in his movements, paused for a moment to peer
about him in the darkness, and to give ear to the sounds of the
battle.

The giant still pursued his advantage, and still Dick fled before
him, spying for his chance.  Then the huge blade flashed and
descended, and the lad, leaping on one side and running in, slashed
sideways and upwards with his bill.  A roar of agony responded,
and, before the wounded man could raise his formidable weapon,
Dick, twice repeating his blow, had brought him to the ground.

The next moment he was engaged, upon more equal terms, with his
second pursuer.  Here there was no great difference in size, and
though the man, fighting with sword and dagger against a bill, and
being wary and quick of fence, had a certain superiority of arms,
Dick more than made it up by his greater agility on foot.  Neither
at first gained any obvious advantage; but the older man was still
insensibly profiting by the ardour of the younger to lead him where
he would; and presently Dick found that they had crossed the whole
width of the beach, and were now fighting above the knees in the
spume and bubble of the breakers.  Here his own superior activity
was rendered useless; he found himself more or less at the
discretion of his foe; yet a little, and he had his back turned
upon his own men, and saw that this adroit and skilful adversary
was bent upon drawing him farther and farther away.

Dick ground his teeth.  He determined to decide the combat
instantly; and when the wash of the next wave had ebbed and left
them dry, he rushed in, caught a blow upon his bill, and leaped
right at the throat of his opponent.  The man went down backwards,
with Dick still upon the top of him; and the next wave, speedily
succeeding to the last, buried him below a rush of water.

While he was still submerged, Dick forced his dagger from his
grasp, and rose to his feet, victorious.

"Yield ye!" he said.  "I give you life."

"I yield me," said the other, getting to his knees.  "Ye fight,
like a young man, ignorantly and foolhardily; but, by the array of
the saints, ye fight bravely!"

Dick turned to the beach.  The combat was still raging doubtfully
in the night; over the hoarse roar of the breakers steel clanged
upon steel, and cries of pain and the shout of battle resounded.

"Lead me to your captain, youth," said the conquered knight.  "It
is fit this butchery should cease."

"Sir," replied Dick, "so far as these brave fellows have a captain,
the poor gentleman who here addresses you is he."

"Call off your dogs, then, and I will bid my villains hold,"
returned the other.

There was something noble both in the voice and manner of his late
opponent, and Dick instantly dismissed all fears of treachery.

"Lay down your arms, men!" cried the stranger knight.  "I have
yielded me, upon promise of life."

The tone of the stranger was one of absolute command, and almost
instantly the din and confusion of the mellay ceased.

"Lawless," cried Dick, "are ye safe?"

"Ay," cried Lawless, "safe and hearty."

"Light me the lantern," said Dick.

"Is not Sir Daniel here?" inquired the knight.

"Sir Daniel?" echoed Dick.  "Now, by the rood, I pray not.  It
would go ill with me if he were."

"Ill with YOU, fair sir?" inquired the other.  "Nay, then, if ye be
not of Sir Daniel's party, I profess I comprehend no longer.
Wherefore, then, fell ye upon mine ambush? in what quarrel, my
young and very fiery friend? to what earthly purpose? and, to make
a clear end of questioning, to what good gentleman have I
surrendered?"

But before Dick could answer, a voice spoke in the darkness from
close by.  Dick could see the speaker's black and white badge, and
the respectful salute which he addressed to his superior.

"My lord," said he, "if these gentlemen be unfriends to Sir Daniel,
it is pity, indeed, we should have been at blows with them; but it
were tenfold greater that either they or we should linger here.
The watchers in the house - unless they be all dead or deaf - have
heard our hammering this quarter-hour agone; instantly they will
have signalled to the town; and unless we be the livelier in our
departure, we are like to be taken, both of us, by a fresh foe."

"Hawksley is in the right," added the lord.  "How please ye, sir?
Whither shall we march?"

"Nay, my lord," said Dick, "go where ye will for me.  I do begin to
suspect we have some ground of friendship, and if, indeed, I began
our acquaintance somewhat ruggedly, I would not churlishly
continue.  Let us, then, separate, my lord, you laying your right
hand in mine; and at the hour and place that ye shall name, let us
encounter and agree."

"Y' are too trustful, boy," said the other; "but this time your
trust is not misplaced.  I will meet you at the point of day at St.
Bride's Cross.  Come, lads, follow!"

The strangers disappeared from the scene with a rapidity that
seemed suspicious; and, while the outlaws fell to the congenial
task of rifling the dead bodies, Dick made once more the circuit of
the garden wall to examine the front of the house.  In a little
upper loophole of the roof he beheld a light set; and as it would
certainly be visible in town from the back windows of Sir Daniel's
mansion, he doubted not that this was the signal feared by
Hawksley, and that ere long the lances of the Knight of Tunstall
would arrive upon the scene.

He put his ear to the ground, and it seemed to him as if he heard a
jarring and hollow noise from townward.  Back to the beach he went
hurrying.  But the work was already done; the last body was
disarmed and stripped to the skin, and four fellows were already
wading seaward to commit it to the mercies of the deep.

A few minutes later, when there debauched out of the nearest lanes
of Shoreby some two score horsemen, hastily arrayed and moving at
the gallop of their steeds, the neighbourhood of the house beside
the sea was entirely silent and deserted.

Meanwhile, Dick and his men had returned to the ale-house of the
Goat and Bagpipes to snatch some hours of sleep before the morning
tryst.


Robert Louis Stevenson