Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 29


CHAPTER IV - THE SACK OF SHOREBY


There was not a foe left within striking distance; and Dick, as he
looked ruefully about him on the remainder of his gallant force,
began to count the cost of victory.  He was himself, now that the
danger was ended, so stiff and sore, so bruised and cut and broken,
and, above all, so utterly exhausted by his desperate and
unremitting labours in the fight, that he seemed incapable of any
fresh exertion.

But this was not yet the hour for repose.  Shoreby had been taken
by assault; and though an open town, and not in any manner to be
charged with the resistance, it was plain that these rough fighters
would be not less rough now that the fight was over, and that the
more horrid part of war would fall to be enacted.  Richard of
Gloucester was not the captain to protect the citizens from his
infuriated soldiery; and even if he had the will, it might be
questioned if he had the power.

It was, therefore, Dick's business to find and to protect Joanna;
and with that end he looked about him at the faces of his men.  The
three or four who seemed likeliest to be obedient and to keep sober
he drew aside; and promising them a rich reward and a special
recommendation to the duke, led them across the market-place, now
empty of horsemen, and into the streets upon the further side.

Every here and there small combats of from two to a dozen still
raged upon the open street; here and there a house was being
besieged, the defenders throwing out stools and tables on the heads
of the assailants.  The snow was strewn with arms and corpses; but
except for these partial combats the streets were deserted, and the
houses, some standing open, and some shuttered and barricaded, had
for the most part ceased to give out smoke.

Dick, threading the skirts of these skirmishers, led his followers
briskly in the direction of the abbey church; but when he came the
length of the main street, a cry of horror broke from his lips.
Sir Daniel's great house had been carried by assault.  The gates
hung in splinters from the hinges, and a double throng kept pouring
in and out through the entrance, seeking and carrying booty.
Meanwhile, in the upper storeys, some resistance was still being
offered to the pillagers; for just as Dick came within eyeshot of
the building, a casement was burst open from within, and a poor
wretch in murrey and blue, screaming and resisting, was forced
through the embrasure and tossed into the street below.

The most sickening apprehension fell upon Dick.  He ran forward
like one possessed, forced his way into the house among the
foremost, and mounted without pause to the chamber on the third
floor where he had last parted from Joanna.  It was a mere wreck;
the furniture had been overthrown, the cupboards broken open, and
in one place a trailing corner of the arras lay smouldering on the
embers of the fire.

Dick, almost without thinking, trod out the incipient
conflagration, and then stood bewildered.  Sir Daniel, Sir Oliver,
Joanna, all were gone; but whether butchered in the rout or safe
escaped from Shoreby, who should say?

He caught a passing archer by the tabard.

"Fellow," he asked, "were ye here when this house was taken?"

"Let be," said the archer.  "A murrain! let be, or I strike."

"Hark ye," returned Richard, "two can play at that.  Stand and be
plain."

But the man, flushed with drink and battle, struck Dick upon the
shoulder with one hand, while with the other he twitched away his
garment.  Thereupon the full wrath of the young leader burst from
his control.  He seized the fellow in his strong embrace, and
crushed him on the plates of his mailed bosom like a child; then,
holding him at arm's length, he bid him speak as he valued life.

"I pray you mercy!" gasped the archer.  "An I had thought ye were
so angry I would 'a' been charier of crossing you.  I was here
indeed."

"Know ye Sir Daniel?" pursued Dick.

"Well do I know him," returned the man.

"Was he in the mansion?"

"Ay, sir, he was," answered the archer; "but even as we entered by
the yard gate he rode forth by the garden."

"Alone?" cried Dick.

"He may 'a' had a score of lances with him," said the man.

"Lances!  No women, then?" asked Shelton.

"Troth, I saw not," said the archer.  "But there were none in the
house, if that be your quest."

"I thank you," said Dick.  "Here is a piece for your pains."  But
groping in his wallet, Dick found nothing.  "Inquire for me to-
morrow," he added - "Richard Shelt - Sir Richard Shelton," he
corrected, "and I will see you handsomely rewarded."

And then an idea struck Dick.  He hastily descended to the
courtyard, ran with all his might across the garden, and came to
the great door of the church.  It stood wide open; within, every
corner of the pavement was crowded with fugitive burghers,
surrounded by their families and laden with the most precious of
their possessions, while, at the high altar, priests in full
canonicals were imploring the mercy of God.  Even as Dick entered,
the loud chorus began to thunder in the vaulted roofs.

He hurried through the groups of refugees, and came to the door of
the stair that led into the steeple.  And here a tall churchman
stepped before him and arrested his advance.

"Whither, my son?" he asked, severely.

"My father," answered Dick, "I am here upon an errand of
expedition.  Stay me not.  I command here for my Lord of
Gloucester."

"For my Lord of Gloucester?" repeated the priest.  "Hath, then, the
battle gone so sore?"

"The battle, father, is at an end, Lancaster clean sped, my Lord of
Risingham - Heaven rest him! - left upon the field.  And now, with
your good leave, I follow mine affairs."  And thrusting on one side
the priest, who seemed stupefied at the news, Dick pushed open the
door and rattled up the stairs four at a bound, and without pause
or stumble, till he stepped upon the open platform at the top.

Shoreby Church tower not only commanded the town, as in a map, but
looked far, on both sides, over sea and land.  It was now near upon
noon; the day exceeding bright, the snow dazzling.  And as Dick
looked around him, he could measure the consequences of the battle.

A confused, growling uproar reached him from the streets, and now
and then, but very rarely, the clash of steel.  Not a ship, not so
much as a skiff remained in harbour; but the sea was dotted with
sails and row-boats laden with fugitives.  On shore, too, the
surface of the snowy meadows was broken up with bands of horsemen,
some cutting their way towards the borders of the forest, others,
who were doubtless of the Yorkist side, stoutly interposing and
beating them back upon the town.  Over all the open ground there
lay a prodigious quantity of fallen men and horses, clearly defined
upon the snow.

To complete the picture, those of the foot soldiers as had not
found place upon a ship still kept up an archery combat on the
borders of the port, and from the cover of the shoreside taverns.
In that quarter, also, one or two houses had been fired, and the
smoke towered high in the frosty sunlight, and blew off to sea in
voluminous folds.

Already close upon the margin of the woods, and somewhat in the
line of Holywood, one particular clump of fleeing horsemen riveted
the attention of the young watcher on the tower.  It was fairly
numerous; in no other quarter of the field did so many Lancastrians
still hold together; thus they had left a wide, discoloured wake
upon the snow, and Dick was able to trace them step by step from
where they had left the town.

While Dick stood watching them, they had gained, unopposed, the
first fringe of the leafless forest, and, turning a little from
their direction, the sun fell for a moment full on their array, as
it was relieved against the dusky wood.

"Murrey and blue!" cried Dick.  "I swear it - murrey and blue!"

The next moment he was descending the stairway.

It was now his business to seek out the Duke of Gloucester, who
alone, in the disorder of the forces, might be able to supply him
with a sufficiency of men.  The fighting in the main town was now
practically at an end; and as Dick ran hither and thither, seeking
the commander, the streets were thick with wandering soldiers, some
laden with more booty than they could well stagger under, others
shouting drunk.  None of them, when questioned, had the least
notion of the duke's whereabouts; and, at last, it was by sheer
good fortune that Dick found him, where he sat in the saddle
directing operations to dislodge the archers from the harbour side.

"Sir Richard Shelton, ye are well found," he said.  "I owe you one
thing that I value little, my life; and one that I can never pay
you for, this victory.  Catesby, if I had ten such captains as Sir
Richard, I would march forthright on London.  But now, sir, claim
your reward."

"Freely, my lord," said Dick, "freely and loudly.  One hath escaped
to whom I owe some grudges, and taken with him one whom I owe love
and service.  Give me, then, fifty lances, that I may pursue; and
for any obligation that your graciousness is pleased to allow, it
shall be clean discharged."

"How call ye him?" inquired the duke.

"Sir Daniel Brackley," answered Richard.

"Out upon him, double-face!" cried Gloucester.  "Here is no reward,
Sir Richard; here is fresh service offered, and, if that ye bring
his head to me, a fresh debt upon my conscience.  Catesby, get him
these lances; and you, sir, bethink ye, in the meanwhile, what
pleasure, honour, or profit it shall be mine to give you."

Just then the Yorkist skirmishers carried one of the shoreside
taverns, swarming in upon it on three sides, and driving out or
taking its defenders.  Crookback Dick was pleased to cheer the
exploit, and pushing his horse a little nearer, called to see the
prisoners.

There were four or five of them - two men of my Lord Shoreby's and
one of Lord Risingham's among the number, and last, but in Dick's
eyes not least, a tall, shambling, grizzled old shipman, between
drunk and sober, and with a dog whimpering and jumping at his
heels.

The young duke passed them for a moment under a severe review.

"Good," he said.  "Hang them."

And he turned the other way to watch the progress of the fight.

"My lord," said Dick, "so please you, I have found my reward.
Grant me the life and liberty of yon old shipman."

Gloucester turned and looked the speaker in the face.

"Sir Richard," he said, "I make not war with peacock's feathers,
but steel shafts.  Those that are mine enemies I slay, and that
without excuse or favour.  For, bethink ye, in this realm of
England, that is so torn in pieces, there is not a man of mine but
hath a brother or a friend upon the other party.  If, then, I did
begin to grant these pardons, I might sheathe my sword."

"It may be so, my lord; and yet I will be overbold, and at the risk
of your disfavour, recall your lordship's promise," replied Dick.

Richard of Gloucester flushed.

"Mark it right well," he said, harshly.  "I love not mercy, nor yet
mercymongers.  Ye have this day laid the foundations of high
fortune.  If ye oppose to me my word, which I have plighted, I will
yield.  But, by the glory of heaven, there your favour dies!

"Mine is the loss," said Dick.

"Give him his sailor," said the duke; and wheeling his horse, he
turned his back upon young Shelton.

Dick was nor glad nor sorry.  He had seen too much of the young
duke to set great store on his affection; and the origin and growth
of his own favour had been too flimsy and too rapid to inspire much
confidence.  One thing alone he feared - that the vindictive leader
might revoke the offer of the lances.  But here he did justice
neither to Gloucester's honour (such as it was) nor, above all, to
his decision.  If he had once judged Dick to be the right man to
pursue Sir Daniel, he was not one to change; and he soon proved it
by shouting after Catesby to be speedy, for the paladin was
waiting.

In the meanwhile, Dick turned to the old shipman, who had seemed
equally indifferent to his condemnation and to his subsequent
release.

"Arblaster," said Dick, "I have done you ill; but now, by the rood,
I think I have cleared the score."

But the old skipper only looked upon him dully and held his peace.

"Come," continued Dick, "a life is a life, old shrew, and it is
more than ships or liquor.  Say ye forgive me; for if your life be
worth nothing to you, it hath cost me the beginnings of my fortune.
Come, I have paid for it dearly; be not so churlish."

"An I had had my ship," said Arblaster, "I would 'a' been forth and
safe on the high seas - I and my man Tom.  But ye took my ship,
gossip, and I'm a beggar; and for my man Tom, a knave fellow in
russet shot him down.  'Murrain!' quoth he, and spake never again.
'Murrain' was the last of his words, and the poor spirit of him
passed.  'A will never sail no more, will my Tom.'"

Dick was seized with unavailing penitence and pity; he sought to
take the skipper's hand, but Arblaster avoided his touch.

"Nay," said he, "let be.  Y' have played the devil with me, and let
that content you."

The words died in Richard's throat.  He saw, through tears, the
poor old man, bemused with liquor and sorrow, go shambling away,
with bowed head, across the snow, and the unnoticed dog whimpering
at his heels, and for the first time began to understand the
desperate game that we play in life; and how a thing once done is
not to be changed or remedied, by any penitence.

But there was no time left to him for vain regret.

Catesby had now collected the horsemen, and riding up to Dick he
dismounted, and offered him his own horse.

"This morning," he said, "I was somewhat jealous of your favour; it
hath not been of a long growth; and now, Sir Richard, it is with a
very good heart that I offer you this horse - to ride away with."

"Suffer me yet a moment," replied Dick.  "This favour of mine -
whereupon was it founded?"

"Upon your name," answered Catesby.  "It is my lord's chief
superstition.  Were my name Richard, I should be an earl to-
morrow."

"Well, sir, I thank you," returned Dick; "and since I am little
likely to follow these great fortunes, I will even say farewell.  I
will not pretend I was displeased to think myself upon the road to
fortune; but I will not pretend, neither, that I am over-sorry to
be done with it.  Command and riches, they are brave things, to be
sure; but a word in your ear - yon duke of yours, he is a fearsome
lad."

Catesby laughed.

"Nay," said he, "of a verity he that rides with Crooked Dick will
ride deep.  Well, God keep us all from evil!  Speed ye well."

Thereupon Dick put himself at the head of his men, and giving the
word of command, rode off.

He made straight across the town, following what he supposed to be
the route of Sir Daniel, and spying around for any signs that might
decide if he were right.

The streets were strewn with the dead and the wounded, whose fate,
in the bitter frost, was far the more pitiable.  Gangs of the
victors went from house to house, pillaging and stabbing, and
sometimes singing together as they went.

From different quarters, as he rode on, the sounds of violence and
outrage came to young Shelton's ears; now the blows of the sledge-
hammer on some barricaded door, and now the miserable shrieks of
women.

Dick's heart had just been awakened.  He had just seen the cruel
consequences of his own behaviour; and the thought of the sum of
misery that was now acting in the whole of Shoreby filled him with
despair.

At length he reached the outskirts, and there, sure enough, he saw
straight before him the same broad, beaten track across the snow
that he had marked from the summit of the church.  Here, then, he
went the faster on; but still, as he rode, he kept a bright eye
upon the fallen men and horses that lay beside the track.  Many of
these, he was relieved to see, wore Sir Daniel's colours, and the
faces of some, who lay upon their back, he even recognised.

About half-way between the town and the forest, those whom he was
following had plainly been assailed by archers; for the corpses lay
pretty closely scattered, each pierced by an arrow.  And here Dick
spied among the rest the body of a very young lad, whose face was
somehow hauntingly familiar to him.

He halted his troop, dismounted, and raised the lad's head.  As he
did so, the hood fell back, and a profusion of long brown hair
unrolled itself.  At the same time the eyes opened.

"Ah! lion driver!" said a feeble voice.  "She is farther on.  Ride
- ride fast!"

And then the poor young lady fainted once again.

One of Dick's men carried a flask of some strong cordial, and with
this Dick succeeded in reviving consciousness.  Then he took
Joanna's friend upon his saddlebow, and once more pushed toward the
forest.

"Why do ye take me?" said the girl.  "Ye but delay your speed."

"Nay, Mistress Risingham," replied Dick.  "Shoreby is full of blood
and drunkenness and riot.  Here ye are safe; content ye."

"I will not be beholden to any of your faction," she cried; "set me
down."

"Madam, ye know not what ye say," returned Dick.  "Y' are hurt" -

"I am not," she said.  "It was my horse was slain."

"It matters not one jot," replied Richard.  "Ye are here in the
midst of open snow, and compassed about with enemies.  Whether ye
will or not, I carry you with me.  Glad am I to have the occasion;
for thus shall I repay some portion of our debt."

For a little while she was silent.  Then, very suddenly, she asked:

"My uncle?"

"My Lord Risingham?" returned Dick.  "I would I had good news to
give you, madam; but I have none.  I saw him once in the battle,
and once only.  Let us hope the best."


Robert Louis Stevenson