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Chapter 21


CHAPTER II - "IN MINE ENEMIES' HOUSE"


Sir Daniel's residence in Shoreby was a tall, commodious, plastered
mansion, framed in carven oak, and covered by a low-pitched roof of
thatch.  To the back there stretched a garden, full of fruit-trees,
alleys, and thick arbours, and overlooked from the far end by the
tower of the abbey church.

The house might contain, upon a pinch, the retinue of a greater
person than Sir Daniel; but even now it was filled with hubbub.
The court rang with arms and horseshoe-iron; the kitchens roared
with cookery like a bees'-hive; minstrels, and the players of
instruments, and the cries of tumblers, sounded from the hall.  Sir
Daniel, in his profusion, in the gaiety and gallantry of his
establishment, rivalled with Lord Shoreby, and eclipsed Lord
Risingham.

All guests were made welcome.  Minstrels, tumblers, players of
chess, the sellers of relics, medicines, perfumes, and
enchantments, and along with these every sort of priest, friar, or
pilgrim, were made welcome to the lower table, and slept together
in the ample lofts, or on the bare boards of the long dining-hall.

On the afternoon following the wreck of the Good Hope, the buttery,
the kitchens, the stables, the covered cartshed that surrounded two
sides of the court, were all crowded by idle people, partly
belonging to Sir Daniel's establishment, and attired in his livery
of murrey and blue, partly nondescript strangers attracted to the
town by greed, and received by the knight through policy, and
because it was the fashion of the time.

The snow, which still fell without interruption, the extreme chill
of the air, and the approach of night, combined to keep them under
shelter.  Wine, ale, and money were all plentiful; many sprawled
gambling in the straw of the barn, many were still drunken from the
noontide meal.  To the eye of a modern it would have looked like
the sack of a city; to the eye of a contemporary it was like any
other rich and noble household at a festive season.

Two monks - a young and an old - had arrived late, and were now
warming themselves at a bonfire in a corner of the shed.  A mixed
crowd surrounded them - jugglers, mountebanks, and soldiers; and
with these the elder of the two had soon engaged so brisk a
conversation, and exchanged so many loud guffaws and country
witticisms, that the group momentarily increased in number.

The younger companion, in whom the reader has already recognised
Dick Shelton, sat from the first somewhat backward, and gradually
drew himself away.  He listened, indeed, closely, but he opened not
his mouth; and by the grave expression of his countenance, he made
but little account of his companion's pleasantries.

At last his eye, which travelled continually to and fro, and kept a
guard upon all the entrances of the house, lit upon a little
procession entering by the main gate and crossing the court in an
oblique direction.  Two ladies, muffled in thick furs, led the way,
and were followed by a pair of waiting-women and four stout men-at-
arms.  The next moment they had disappeared within the house; and
Dick, slipping through the crowd of loiterers in the shed, was
already giving hot pursuit.

"The taller of these twain was Lady Brackley," he thought; "and
where Lady Brackley is, Joan will not be far."

At the door of the house the four men-at-arms had ceased to follow,
and the ladies were now mounting the stairway of polished oak,
under no better escort than that of the two waiting-women.  Dick
followed close behind.  It was already the dusk of the day; and in
the house the darkness of the night had almost come.  On the stair-
landings, torches flared in iron holders; down the long, tapestried
corridors, a lamp burned by every door.  And where the door stood
open, Dick could look in upon arras-covered walls and rush-
bescattered floors, glowing in the light of the wood fires.

Two floors were passed, and at every landing the younger and
shorter of the two ladies had looked back keenly at the monk.  He,
keeping his eyes lowered, and affecting the demure manners that
suited his disguise, had but seen her once, and was unaware that he
had attracted her attention.  And now, on the third floor, the
party separated, the younger lady continuing to ascend alone, the
other, followed by the waiting-maids, descending the corridor to
the right.

Dick mounted with a swift foot, and holding to the corner, thrust
forth his head and followed the three women with his eyes.  Without
turning or looking behind them, they continued to descend the
corridor.

"It is right well," thought Dick.  "Let me but know my Lady
Brackley's chamber, and it will go hard an I find not Dame Hatch
upon an errand."

And just then a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and, with a bound
and a choked cry, he turned to grapple his assailant.

He was somewhat abashed to find, in the person whom he had so
roughly seized, the short young lady in the furs.  She, on her
part, was shocked and terrified beyond expression, and hung
trembling in his grasp.

"Madam," said Dick, releasing her, "I cry you a thousand pardons;
but I have no eyes behind, and, by the mass, I could not tell ye
were a maid."

The girl continued to look at him, but, by this time, terror began
to be succeeded by surprise, and surprise by suspicion.  Dick, who
could read these changes on her face, became alarmed for his own
safety in that hostile house.

"Fair maid," he said, affecting easiness, "suffer me to kiss your
hand, in token ye forgive my roughness, and I will even go."

"Y' are a strange monk, young sir," returned the young lady,
looking him both boldly and shrewdly in the face; "and now that my
first astonishment hath somewhat passed away, I can spy the layman
in each word you utter.  What do ye here?  Why are ye thus
sacrilegiously tricked out?  Come ye in peace or war?  And why spy
ye after Lady Brackley like a thief?"

"Madam," quoth Dick, "of one thing I pray you to be very sure:  I
am no thief.  And even if I come here in war, as in some degree I
do, I make no war upon fair maids, and I hereby entreat them to
copy me so far, and to leave me be.  For, indeed, fair mistress,
cry out - if such be your pleasure - cry but once, and say what ye
have seen, and the poor gentleman before you is merely a dead man.
I cannot think ye would be cruel," added Dick; and taking the
girl's hand gently in both of his, he looked at her with courteous
admiration.

"Are ye, then, a spy - a Yorkist?" asked the maid.

"Madam," he replied, "I am indeed a Yorkist, and, in some sort, a
spy.  But that which bringeth me into this house, the same which
will win for me the pity and interest of your kind heart, is
neither of York nor Lancaster.  I will wholly put my life in your
discretion.  I am a lover, and my name - "

But here the young lady clapped her hand suddenly upon Dick's
mouth, looked hastily up and down and east and west, and, seeing
the coast clear, began to drag the young man, with great strength
and vehemence, up-stairs.

"Hush!" she said, "and come!  Shalt talk hereafter."

Somewhat bewildered, Dick suffered himself to be pulled up-stairs,
bustled along a corridor, and thrust suddenly into a chamber, lit,
like so many of the others, by a blazing log upon the hearth.

"Now," said the young lady, forcing him down upon a stool, "sit ye
there and attend my sovereign good pleasure.  I have life and death
over you, and I will not scruple to abuse my power.  Look to
yourself; y' 'ave cruelly mauled my arm.  He knew not I was a maid,
quoth he!  Had he known I was a maid, he had ta'en his belt to me,
forsooth!"

And with these words, she whipped out of the room and left Dick
gaping with wonder, and not very sure if he were dreaming or awake.

"Ta'en my belt to her!" he repeated.  "Ta'en my belt to her!"  And
the recollection of that evening in the forest flowed back upon his
mind, and he once more saw Matcham's wincing body and beseeching
eyes.

And then he was recalled to the dangers of the present.  In the
next room he heard a stir, as of a person moving; then followed a
sigh, which sounded strangely near; and then the rustle of skirts
and tap of feet once more began.  As he stood hearkening, he saw
the arras wave along the wall; there was the sound of a door being
opened, the hangings divided, and, lamp in hand, Joanna Sedley
entered the apartment.

She was attired in costly stuffs of deep and warm colours, such as
befit the winter and the snow.  Upon her head, her hair had been
gathered together and became her as a crown.  And she, who had
seemed so little and so awkward in the attire of Matcham, was now
tall like a young willow, and swam across the floor as though she
scorned the drudgery of walking.

Without a start, without a tremor, she raised her lamp and looked
at the young monk.

"What make ye here, good brother?" she inquired.  "Ye are doubtless
ill-directed.  Whom do ye require?  And she set her lamp upon the
bracket.

"Joanna," said Dick; and then his voice failed him.  "Joanna," he
began again, "ye said ye loved me; and the more fool I, but I
believed it!"

"Dick!" she cried.  "Dick!"

And then, to the wonder of the lad, this beautiful and tall young
lady made but one step of it, and threw her arms about his neck and
gave him a hundred kisses all in one.

"Oh, the fool fellow!" she cried.  "Oh, dear Dick!  Oh, if ye could
see yourself!  Alack!" she added, pausing.  "I have spoilt you,
Dick!  I have knocked some of the paint off.  But that can be
mended.  What cannot be mended, Dick - or I much fear it cannot! -
is my marriage with Lord Shoreby."

"Is it decided, then?" asked the lad.

"To-morrow, before noon, Dick, in the abbey church," she answered,
"John Matcham and Joanna Sedley both shall come to a right
miserable end.  There is no help in tears, or I could weep mine
eyes out.  I have not spared myself to pray, but Heaven frowns on
my petition.  And, dear Dick - good Dick - but that ye can get me
forth of this house before the morning, we must even kiss and say
good-bye."

"Nay," said Dick, "not I; I will never say that word.  'Tis like
despair; but while there's life, Joanna, there is hope.  Yet will I
hope.  Ay, by the mass, and triumph!  Look ye, now, when ye were
but a name to me, did I not follow - did I not rouse good men - did
I not stake my life upon the quarrel?  And now that I have seen you
for what ye are - the fairest maid and stateliest of England -
think ye I would turn? - if the deep sea were there, I would
straight through it; if the way were full of lions, I would scatter
them like mice."

"Ay," she said, dryly, "ye make a great ado about a sky-blue robe!"

"Nay, Joan," protested Dick, "'tis not alone the robe.  But, lass,
ye were disguised.  Here am I disguised; and, to the proof, do I
not cut a figure of fun - a right fool's figure?"

"Ay, Dick, an' that ye do!" she answered, smiling.

"Well, then!" he returned, triumphant.  "So was it with you, poor
Matcham, in the forest.  In sooth, ye were a wench to laugh at.
But now!"

So they ran on, holding each other by both hands, exchanging smiles
and lovely looks, and melting minutes into seconds; and so they
might have continued all night long.  But presently there was a
noise behind them; and they were aware of the short young lady,
with her finger on her lips.

"Saints!" she cried, "but what a noise ye keep!  Can ye not speak
in compass?  And now, Joanna, my fair maid of the woods, what will
ye give your gossip for bringing you your sweetheart?"

Joanna ran to her, by way of answer, and embraced her fierily.

"And you, sir," added the young lady, "what do ye give me?"

"Madam," said Dick, "I would fain offer to pay you in the same
money."

"Come, then," said the lady, "it is permitted you."

But Dick, blushing like a peony, only kissed her hand.

"What ails ye at my face, fair sir?" she inquired, curtseying to
the very ground; and then, when Dick had at length and most tepidly
embraced her, "Joanna," she added, "your sweetheart is very
backward under your eyes; but I warrant you, when first we met he
was more ready.  I am all black and blue, wench; trust me never, if
I be not black and blue!  And now," she continued, "have ye said
your sayings? for I must speedily dismiss the paladin."

But at this they both cried out that they had said nothing, that
the night was still very young, and that they would not be
separated so early.

"And supper?" asked the young lady.  "Must we not go down to
supper?"

"Nay, to be sure!" cried Joan.  "I had forgotten."

"Hide me, then," said Dick, "put me behind the arras, shut me in a
chest, or what ye will, so that I may be here on your return.
Indeed, fair lady," he added, "bear this in mind, that we are sore
bested, and may never look upon each other's face from this night
forward till we die."

At this the young lady melted; and when, a little after, the bell
summoned Sir Daniel's household to the board, Dick was planted very
stiffly against the wall, at a place where a division in the
tapestry permitted him to breathe the more freely, and even to see
into the room.

He had not been long in this position, when he was somewhat
strangely disturbed.  The silence, in that upper storey of the
house, was only broken by the flickering of the flames and the
hissing of a green log in the chimney; but presently, to Dick's
strained hearing, there came the sound of some one walking with
extreme precaution; and soon after the door opened, and a little
black-faced, dwarfish fellow, in Lord Shoreby's colours, pushed
first his head, and then his crooked body, into the chamber.  His
mouth was open, as though to hear the better; and his eyes, which
were very bright, flitted restlessly and swiftly to and fro.  He
went round and round the room, striking here and there upon the
hangings; but Dick, by a miracle, escaped his notice.  Then he
looked below the furniture, and examined the lamp; and, at last,
with an air of cruel disappointment, was preparing to go away as
silently as he had come, when down he dropped upon his knees,
picked up something from among the rushes on the floor, examined
it, and, with every signal of delight, concealed it in the wallet
at his belt.

Dick's heart sank, for the object in question was a tassel from his
own girdle; and it was plain to him that this dwarfish spy, who
took a malign delight in his employment, would lose no time in
bearing it to his master, the baron.  He was half-tempted to throw
aside the arras, fall upon the scoundrel, and, at the risk of his
life, remove the telltale token.  And while he was still
hesitating, a new cause of concern was added.  A voice, hoarse and
broken by drink, began to be audible from the stair; and presently
after, uneven, wandering, and heavy footsteps sounded without along
the passage.

"What make ye here, my merry men, among the greenwood shaws?" sang
the voice.  "What make ye here?  Hey! sots, what make ye here?" it
added, with a rattle of drunken laughter; and then, once more
breaking into song:


"If ye should drink the clary wine,
Fat Friar John, ye friend o' mine -
If I should eat, and ye should drink,
Who shall sing the mass, d'ye think?"


Lawless, alas! rolling drunk, was wandering the house, seeking for
a corner wherein to slumber off the effect of his potations.  Dick
inwardly raged.  The spy, at first terrified, had grown reassured
as he found he had to deal with an intoxicated man, and now, with a
movement of cat-like rapidity, slipped from the chamber, and was
gone from Richard's eyes.

What was to be done?  If he lost touch of Lawless for the night, he
was left impotent, whether to plan or carry forth Joanna's rescue.
If, on the other hand, he dared to address the drunken outlaw, the
spy might still be lingering within sight, and the most fatal
consequences ensue.

It was, nevertheless, upon this last hazard that Dick decided.
Slipping from behind the tapestry, he stood ready in the doorway of
the chamber, with a warning hand upraised.  Lawless, flushed
crimson, with his eyes injected, vacillating on his feet, drew
still unsteadily nearer.  At last he hazily caught sight of his
commander, and, in despite of Dick's imperious signals, hailed him
instantly and loudly by his name.

Dick leaped upon and shook the drunkard furiously.

"Beast!" he hissed - "beast and no man!  It is worse than treachery
to be so witless.  We may all be shent for thy sotting."

But Lawless only laughed and staggered, and tried to clap young
Shelton on the back.

And just then Dick's quick ear caught a rapid brushing in the
arras.  He leaped towards the sound, and the next moment a piece of
the wall-hanging had been torn down, and Dick and the spy were
sprawling together in its folds.  Over and over they rolled,
grappling for each other's throat, and still baffled by the arras,
and still silent in their deadly fury.  But Dick was by much the
stronger, and soon the spy lay prostrate under his knee, and, with
a single stroke of the long poniard, ceased to breathe.


Robert Louis Stevenson