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Chapter 20


BOOK IV - THE DISGUISE : CHAPTER I - THE DEN


The place where Dick had struck the line of a high-road was not far
from Holywood, and within nine or ten miles of Shoreby-on-the-Till;
and here, after making sure that they were pursued no longer, the
two bodies separated.  Lord Foxham's followers departed, carrying
their wounded master towards the comfort and security of the great
abbey; and Dick, as he saw them wind away and disappear in the
thick curtain of the falling snow, was left alone with near upon a
dozen outlaws, the last remainder of his troop of volunteers.

Some were wounded; one and all were furious at their ill-success
and long exposure; and though they were now too cold and hungry to
do more, they grumbled and cast sullen looks upon their leaders.
Dick emptied his purse among them, leaving himself nothing; thanked
them for the courage they had displayed, though he could have found
it more readily in his heart to rate them for poltroonery; and
having thus somewhat softened the effect of his prolonged
misfortune, despatched them to find their way, either severally or
in pairs, to Shoreby and the Goat and Bagpipes.

For his own part, influenced by what he had seen on board of the
Good Hope, he chose Lawless to be his companion on the walk.  The
snow was falling, without pause or variation, in one even, blinding
cloud; the wind had been strangled, and now blew no longer; and the
whole world was blotted out and sheeted down below that silent
inundation.  There was great danger of wandering by the way and
perishing in drifts; and Lawless, keeping half a step in front of
his companion, and holding his head forward like a hunting dog upon
the scent, inquired his way of every tree, and studied out their
path as though he were conning a ship among dangers.

About a mile into the forest they came to a place where several
ways met, under a grove of lofty and contorted oaks.  Even in the
narrow horizon of the falling snow, it was a spot that could not
fail to be recognised; and Lawless evidently recognised it with
particular delight.

"Now, Master Richard," said he, "an y' are not too proud to be the
guest of a man who is neither a gentleman by birth nor so much as a
good Christian, I can offer you a cup of wine and a good fire to
melt the marrow in your frozen bones."

"Lead on, Will," answered Dick.  "A cup of wine and a good fire!
Nay, I would go a far way round to see them."

Lawless turned aside under the bare branches of the grove, and,
walking resolutely forward for some time, came to a steepish hollow
or den, that had now drifted a quarter full of snow.  On the verge,
a great beech-tree hung, precariously rooted; and here the old
outlaw, pulling aside some bushy underwood, bodily disappeared into
the earth.

The beech had, in some violent gale, been half-uprooted, and had
torn up a considerable stretch of turf and it was under this that
old Lawless had dug out his forest hiding-place.  The roots served
him for rafters, the turf was his thatch; for walls and floor he
had his mother the earth.  Rude as it was, the hearth in one
corner, blackened by fire, and the presence in another of a large
oaken chest well fortified with iron, showed it at one glance to be
the den of a man, and not the burrow of a digging beast.

Though the snow had drifted at the mouth and sifted in upon the
floor of this earth cavern, yet was the air much warmer than
without; and when Lawless had struck a spark, and the dry furze
bushes had begun to blaze and crackle on the hearth, the place
assumed, even to the eye, an air of comfort and of home.

With a sigh of great contentment, Lawless spread his broad hands
before the fire, and seemed to breathe the smoke.

"Here, then," he said, "is this old Lawless's rabbit-hole; pray
Heaven there come no terrier!  Far I have rolled hither and
thither, and here and about, since that I was fourteen years of
mine age and first ran away from mine abbey, with the sacrist's
gold chain and a mass-book that I sold for four marks.  I have been
in England and France and Burgundy, and in Spain, too, on a
pilgrimage for my poor soul; and upon the sea, which is no man's
country.  But here is my place, Master Shelton.  This is my native
land, this burrow in the earth!  Come rain or wind - and whether
it's April, and the birds all sing, and the blossoms fall about my
bed - or whether it's winter, and I sit alone with my good gossip
the fire, and robin red breast twitters in the woods - here, is my
church and market, and my wife and child.  It's here I come back
to, and it's here, so please the saints, that I would like to die."

"'Tis a warm corner, to be sure," replied Dick, "and a pleasant,
and a well hid."

"It had need to be," returned Lawless, "for an they found it,
Master Shelton, it would break my heart.  But here," he added,
burrowing with his stout fingers in the sandy floor, "here is my
wine cellar; and ye shall have a flask of excellent strong stingo."

Sure enough, after but a little digging, he produced a big leathern
bottle of about a gallon, nearly three-parts full of a very heady
and sweet wine; and when they had drunk to each other comradely,
and the fire had been replenished and blazed up again, the pair lay
at full length, thawing and steaming, and divinely warm.

"Master Shelton," observed the outlaw, "y' 'ave had two mischances
this last while, and y' are like to lose the maid - do I take it
aright?"

"Aright!" returned Dick, nodding his head.

"Well, now," continued Lawless, "hear an old fool that hath been
nigh-hand everything, and seen nigh-hand all!  Ye go too much on
other people's errands, Master Dick.  Ye go on Ellis's; but he
desireth rather the death of Sir Daniel.  Ye go on Lord Foxham's;
well - the saints preserve him! - doubtless he meaneth well.  But
go ye upon your own, good Dick.  Come right to the maid's side.
Court her, lest that she forget you.  Be ready; and when the chance
shall come, off with her at the saddle-bow."

"Ay, but, Lawless, beyond doubt she is now in Sir Daniel's own
mansion." answered Dick.

"Thither, then, go we," replied the outlaw.

Dick stared at him.

"Nay, I mean it," nodded Lawless.  "And if y' are of so little
faith, and stumble at a word, see here!"

And the outlaw, taking a key from about his neck, opened the oak
chest, and dipping and groping deep among its contents, produced
first a friar's robe, and next a girdle of rope; and then a huge
rosary of wood, heavy enough to be counted as a weapon.

"Here," he said, "is for you.  On with them!"

And then, when Dick had clothed himself in this clerical disguise,
Lawless produced some colours and a pencil, and proceeded, with the
greatest cunning, to disguise his face.  The eyebrows he thickened
and produced; to the moustache, which was yet hardly visible, he
rendered a like service; while, by a few lines around the eye, he
changed the expression and increased the apparent age of this young
monk.

"Now," he resumed, "when I have done the like, we shall make as
bonny a pair of friars as the eye could wish.  Boldly to Sir
Daniel's we shall go, and there be hospitably welcome for the love
of Mother Church."

"And how, dear Lawless," cried the lad, "shall I repay you?"

"Tut, brother," replied the outlaw, "I do naught but for my
pleasure.  Mind not for me.  I am one, by the mass, that mindeth
for himself.  When that I lack, I have a long tongue and a voice
like the monastery bell - I do ask, my son; and where asking
faileth, I do most usually take."

The old rogue made a humorous grimace; and although Dick was
displeased to lie under so great favours to so equivocal a
personage, he was yet unable to restrain his mirth.

With that, Lawless returned to the big chest, and was soon
similarly disguised; but, below his gown, Dick wondered to observe
him conceal a sheaf of black arrows.

"Wherefore do ye that?" asked the lad.  "Wherefore arrows, when ye
take no bow?"

"Nay," replied Lawless, lightly, "'tis like there will be heads
broke - not to say backs - ere you and I win sound from where we're
going to; and if any fall, I would our fellowship should come by
the credit on't.  A black arrow, Master Dick, is the seal of our
abbey; it showeth you who writ the bill."

"An ye prepare so carefully," said Dick, "I have here some papers
that, for mine own sake, and the interest of those that trusted me,
were better left behind than found upon my body.  Where shall I
conceal them, Will?"

"Nay," replied Lawless, "I will go forth into the wood and whistle
me three verses of a song; meanwhile, do you bury them where ye
please, and smooth the sand upon the place."

"Never!" cried Richard.  "I trust you, man.  I were base indeed if
I not trusted you."

"Brother, y' are but a child," replied the old outlaw, pausing and
turning his face upon Dick from the threshold of the den.  "I am a
kind old Christian, and no traitor to men's blood, and no sparer of
mine own in a friend's jeopardy.  But, fool, child, I am a thief by
trade and birth and habit.  If my bottle were empty and my mouth
dry, I would rob you, dear child, as sure as I love, honour, and
admire your parts and person!  Can it be clearer spoken?  No."

And he stumped forth through the bushes with a snap of his big
fingers.

Dick, thus left alone, after a wondering thought upon the
inconsistencies of his companion's character, hastily produced,
reviewed, and buried his papers.  One only he reserved to carry
along with him, since it in nowise compromised his friends, and yet
might serve him, in a pinch, against Sir Daniel.  That was the
knight's own letter to Lord Wensleydale, sent by Throgmorton, on
the morrow of the defeat at Risingham, and found next day by Dick
upon the body of the messenger.

Then, treading down the embers of the fire, Dick left the den, and
rejoined the old outlaw, who stood awaiting him under the leafless
oaks, and was already beginning to be powdered by the falling snow.
Each looked upon the other, and each laughed, so thorough and so
droll was the disguise.

"Yet I would it were but summer and a clear day," grumbled the
outlaw, "that I might see myself in the mirror of a pool.  There be
many of Sir Daniel's men that know me; and if we fell to be
recognised, there might be two words for you, brother, but as for
me, in a paternoster while, I should be kicking in a rope's-end."

Thus they set forth together along the road to Shoreby, which, in
this part of its course, kept near along the margin or the forest,
coming forth, from time to time, in the open country, and passing
beside poor folks' houses and small farms.

Presently at sight of one of these, Lawless pulled up.

"Brother Martin," he said, in a voice capitally disguised, and
suited to his monkish robe, "let us enter and seek alms from these
poor sinners.  PAX VOBISCUM!  Ay," he added, in his own voice,
"'tis as I feared; I have somewhat lost the whine of it; and by
your leave, good Master Shelton, ye must suffer me to practise in
these country places, before that I risk my fat neck by entering
Sir Daniel's.  But look ye a little, what an excellent thing it is
to be a Jack-of-all-trades!  An I had not been a shipman, ye had
infallibly gone down in the Good Hope; an I had not been a thief, I
could not have painted me your face; and but that I had been a Grey
Friar, and sung loud in the choir, and ate hearty at the board, I
could not have carried this disguise, but the very dogs would have
spied us out and barked at us for shams."

He was by this time close to the window of the farm, and he rose on
his tip-toes and peeped in.

"Nay," he cried, "better and better.  We shall here try our false
faces with a vengeance, and have a merry jest on Brother Capper to
boot."

And so saying, he opened the door and led the way into the house.

Three of their own company sat at the table, greedily eating.
Their daggers, stuck beside them in the board, and the black and
menacing looks which they continued to shower upon the people of
the house, proved that they owed their entertainment rather to
force than favour.  On the two monks, who now, with a sort of
humble dignity, entered the kitchen of the farm, they seemed to
turn with a particular resentment; and one - it was John Capper in
person - who seemed to play the leading part, instantly and rudely
ordered them away.

"We want no beggars here!" he cried.

But another - although he was as far from recognising Dick and
Lawless - inclined to more moderate counsels.

"Not so," he cried.  "We be strong men, and take; these be weak,
and crave; but in the latter end these shall be uppermost and we
below.  Mind him not, my father; but come, drink of my cup, and
give me a benediction."

"Y' are men of a light mind, carnal, and accursed," said the monk.
"Now, may the saints forbid that ever I should drink with such
companions!  But here, for the pity I bear to sinners, here I do
leave you a blessed relic, the which, for your soul's interest, I
bid you kiss and cherish."

So far Lawless thundered upon them like a preaching friar; but with
these words he drew from under his robe a black arrow, tossed it on
the board in front of the three startled outlaws, turned in the
same instant, and, taking Dick along with him, was out of the room
and out of sight among the falling snow before they had time to
utter a word or move a finger.

"So," he said, "we have proved our false faces, Master Shelton.  I
will now adventure my poor carcase where ye please."

"Good!" returned Richard.  "It irks me to be doing.  Set we on for
Shoreby!


Robert Louis Stevenson