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Chapter 28


CHAPTER III - THE BATTLE OF SHOREBY (Concluded)


Dick, once more left to his own counsels, began to look about him.
The arrow-shot had somewhat slackened.  On all sides the enemy were
falling back; and the greater part of the market-place was now left
empty, the snow here trampled into orange mud, there splashed with
gore, scattered all over with dead men and horses, and bristling
thick with feathered arrows.

On his own side the loss had been cruel.  The jaws of the little
street and the ruins of the barricade were heaped with the dead and
dying; and out of the hundred men with whom he had begun the
battle, there were not seventy left who could still stand to arms.

At the same time, the day was passing.  The first reinforcements
might be looked for to arrive at any moment; and the Lancastrians,
already shaken by the result of their desperate but unsuccessful
onslaught, were in an ill temper to support a fresh invader.

There was a dial in the wall of one of the two flanking houses; and
this, in the frosty winter sunshine, indicated ten of the forenoon.

Dick turned to the man who was at his elbow, a little insignificant
archer, binding a cut in his arm.

"It was well fought," he said, "and, by my sooth, they will not
charge us twice."

"Sir," said the little archer, "ye have fought right well for York,
and better for yourself.  Never hath man in so brief space
prevailed so greatly on the duke's affections.  That he should have
entrusted such a post to one he knew not is a marvel.  But look to
your head, Sir Richard!  If ye be vanquished - ay, if ye give way
one foot's breadth - axe or cord shall punish it; and I am set if
ye do aught doubtful, I will tell you honestly, here to stab you
from behind."

Dick looked at the little man in amaze.

"You!"  he cried.  "And from behind!"

"It is right so," returned the archer; "and because I like not the
affair I tell it you.  Ye must make the post good, Sir Richard, at
your peril.  O, our Crookback is a bold blade and a good warrior;
but, whether in cold blood or in hot, he will have all things done
exact to his commandment.  If any fail or hinder, they shall die
the death."

"Now, by the saints!" cried Richard, "is this so?  And will men
follow such a leader?"

"Nay, they follow him gleefully," replied the other; "for if he be
exact to punish, he is most open-handed to reward.  And if he spare
not the blood and sweat of others, he is ever liberal of his own,
still in the first front of battle, still the last to sleep.  He
will go far, will Crookback Dick o' Gloucester!"

The young knight, if he had before been brave and vigilant, was now
all the more inclined to watchfulness and courage.  His sudden
favour, he began to perceive, had brought perils in its train.  And
he turned from the archer, and once more scanned anxiously the
market-place.  It lay empty as before.

"I like not this quietude," he said.  "Doubtless they prepare us
some surprise."

And, as if in answer to his remark, the archers began once more to
advance against the barricade, and the arrows to fall thick.  But
there was something hesitating in the attack.  They came not on
roundly, but seemed rather to await a further signal.

Dick looked uneasily about him, spying for a hidden danger.  And
sure enough, about half way up the little street, a door was
suddenly opened from within, and the house continued, for some
seconds, and both by door and window, to disgorge a torrent of
Lancastrian archers.  These, as they leaped down, hurriedly stood
to their ranks, bent their bows, and proceeded to pour upon Dick's
rear a flight of arrows.

At the same time, the assailants in the market-place redoubled
their shot, and began to close in stoutly upon the barricade.

Dick called down his whole command out of the houses, and facing
them both ways, and encouraging their valour both by word and
gesture, returned as best he could the double shower of shafts that
fell about his post.

Meanwhile house after house was opened in the street, and the
Lancastrians continued to pour out of the doors and leap down from
the windows, shouting victory, until the number of enemies upon
Dick's rear was almost equal to the number in his face.  It was
plain that he could hold the post no longer; what was worse, even
if he could have held it, it had now become useless; and the whole
Yorkist army lay in a posture of helplessness upon the brink of a
complete disaster.

The men behind him formed the vital flaw in the general defence;
and it was upon these that Dick turned, charging at the head of his
men.  So vigorous was the attack, that the Lancastrian archers gave
ground and staggered, and, at last, breaking their ranks, began to
crowd back into the houses from which they had so recently and so
vaingloriously sallied.

Meanwhile the men from the market-place had swarmed across the
undefended barricade, and fell on hotly upon the other side; and
Dick must once again face about, and proceed to drive them back.
Once again the spirit of his men prevailed; they cleared the street
in a triumphant style, but even as they did so the others issued
again out of the houses, and took them, a third time, upon the
rear.

The Yorkists began to be scattered; several times Dick found
himself alone among his foes and plying his bright sword for life;
several times he was conscious of a hurt.  And meanwhile the fight
swayed to and fro in the street without determinate result.

Suddenly Dick was aware of a great trumpeting about the outskirts
of the town.  The war-cry of York began to be rolled up to heaven,
as by many and triumphant voices.  And at the same time the men in
front of him began to give ground rapidly, streaming out of the
street and back upon the market-place.  Some one gave the word to
fly.  Trumpets were blown distractedly, some for a rally, some to
charge.  It was plain that a great blow had been struck, and the
Lancastrians were thrown, at least for the moment, into full
disorder, and some degree of panic.

And then, like a theatre trick, there followed the last act of
Shoreby Battle.  The men in front of Richard turned tail, like a
dog that has been whistled home, and fled like the wind.  At the
same moment there came through the market-place a storm of
horsemen, fleeing and pursuing, the Lancastrians turning back to
strike with the sword, the Yorkists riding them down at the point
of the lance.

Conspicuous in the mellay, Dick beheld the Crookback.  He was
already giving a foretaste of that furious valour and skill to cut
his way across the ranks of war, which, years afterwards upon the
field of Bosworth, and when he was stained with crimes, almost
sufficed to change the fortunes of the day and the destiny of the
English throne.  Evading, striking, riding down, he so forced and
so manoeuvred his strong horse, so aptly defended himself, and so
liberally scattered death to his opponents, that he was now far
ahead of the foremost of his knights, hewing his way, with the
truncheon of a bloody sword, to where Lord Risingham was rallying
the bravest.  A moment more and they had met; the tall, splendid,
and famous warrior against the deformed and sickly boy.

Yet Shelton had never a doubt of the result; and when the fight
next opened for a moment, the figure of the earl had disappeared;
but still, in the first of the danger, Crookback Dick was launching
his big horse and plying the truncheon of his sword.

Thus, by Shelton's courage in holding the mouth of the street
against the first attack, and by the opportune arrival of his seven
hundred reinforcements, the lad, who was afterwards to be handed
down to the execration of posterity under the name of Richard III.,
had won his first considerable fight.


Robert Louis Stevenson