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Chapter 30


CHAPTER V - NIGHT IN THE WOODS:  ALICIA RISINGHAM


It was almost certain that Sir Daniel had made for the Moat House;
but, considering the heavy snow, the lateness of the hour, and the
necessity under which he would lie of avoiding the few roads and
striking across the wood, it was equally certain that he could not
hope to reach it ere the morrow.

There were two courses open to Dick; either to continue to follow
in the knight's trail, and, if he were able, to fall upon him that
very night in camp, or to strike out a path of his own, and seek to
place himself between Sir Daniel and his destination.

Either scheme was open to serious objection, and Dick, who feared
to expose Joanna to the hazards of a fight, had not yet decided
between them when he reached the borders of the wood.

At this point Sir Daniel had turned a little to his left, and then
plunged straight under a grove of very lofty timber.  His party had
then formed to a narrower front, in order to pass between the
trees, and the track was trod proportionally deeper in the snow.
The eye followed it under the leafless tracery of the oaks, running
direct and narrow; the trees stood over it, with knotty joints and
the great, uplifted forest of their boughs; there was no sound,
whether of man or beast - not so much as the stirring of a robin;
and over the field of snow the winter sun lay golden among netted
shadows.

"How say ye," asked Dick of one of the men, "to follow straight on,
or strike across for Tunstall?"

"Sir Richard," replied the man-at-arms, "I would follow the line
until they scatter."

"Ye are, doubtless, right," returned Dick; "but we came right
hastily upon the errand, even as the time commanded.  Here are no
houses, neither for food nor shelter, and by the morrow's dawn we
shall know both cold fingers and an empty belly.  How say ye, lads?
Will ye stand a pinch for expedition's sake, or shall we turn by
Holywood and sup with Mother Church?  The case being somewhat
doubtful, I will drive no man; yet if ye would suffer me to lead
you, ye would choose the first."

The men answered, almost with one voice, that they would follow Sir
Richard where he would.

And Dick, setting spur to his horse, began once more to go forward.

The snow in the trail had been trodden very hard, and the pursuers
had thus a great advantage over the pursued.  They pushed on,
indeed, at a round trot, two hundred hoofs beating alternately on
the dull pavement of the snow, and the jingle of weapons and the
snorting of horses raising a warlike noise along the arches of the
silent wood.

Presently, the wide slot of the pursued came out upon the high road
from Holywood; it was there, for a moment, indistinguishable; and,
where it once more plunged into the unbeaten snow upon the farther
side, Dick was surprised to see it narrower and lighter trod.
Plainly, profiting by the road, Sir Daniel had begun already to
scatter his command.

At all hazards, one chance being equal to another, Dick continued
to pursue the straight trail; and that, after an hour's riding, in
which it led into the very depths of the forest, suddenly split,
like a bursting shell, into two dozen others, leading to every
point of the compass.

Dick drew bridle in despair.  The short winter's day was near an
end; the sun, a dull red orange, shorn of rays, swam low among the
leafless thickets; the shadows were a mile long upon the snow; the
frost bit cruelly at the finger-nails; and the breath and steam of
the horses mounted in a cloud.

"Well, we are outwitted," Dick confessed.  "Strike we for Holywood,
after all.  It is still nearer us than Tunstall - or should be by
the station of the sun."

So they wheeled to their left, turning their backs on the red
shield of sun, and made across country for the abbey.  But now
times were changed with them; they could no longer spank forth
briskly on a path beaten firm by the passage of their foes, and for
a goal to which that path itself conducted them.  Now they must
plough at a dull pace through the encumbering snow, continually
pausing to decide their course, continually floundering in drifts.
The sun soon left them; the glow of the west decayed; and presently
they were wandering in a shadow of blackness, under frosty stars.

Presently, indeed, the moon would clear the hilltops, and they
might resume their march.  But till then, every random step might
carry them wider of their march.  There was nothing for it but to
camp and wait.

Sentries were posted; a spot of ground was cleared of snow, and,
after some failures, a good fire blazed in the midst.  The men-at-
arms sat close about this forest hearth, sharing such provisions as
they had, and passing about the flask; and Dick, having collected
the most delicate of the rough and scanty fare, brought it to Lord
Risingham's niece, where she sat apart from the soldiery against a
tree.

She sat upon one horse-cloth, wrapped in another, and stared
straight before her at the firelit scene.  At the offer of food she
started, like one wakened from a dream, and then silently refused.

"Madam," said Dick, "let me beseech you, punish me not so cruelly.
Wherein I have offended you, I know not; I have, indeed, carried
you away, but with a friendly violence; I have, indeed, exposed you
to the inclemency of night, but the hurry that lies upon me hath
for its end the preservation of another, who is no less frail and
no less unfriended than yourself.  At least, madam, punish not
yourself; and eat, if not for hunger, then for strength."

"I will eat nothing at the hands that slew my kinsman," she
replied.

"Dear madam," Dick cried, "I swear to you upon the rood I touched
him not."

"Swear to me that he still lives," she returned.

"I will not palter with you," answered Dick.  "Pity bids me to
wound you.  In my heart I do believe him dead."

"And ye ask me to eat!" she cried.  "Ay, and they call you 'sir!'
Y' have won your spurs by my good kinsman's murder.  And had I not
been fool and traitor both, and saved you in your enemy's house, ye
should have died the death, and he - he that was worth twelve of
you - were living."

"I did but my man's best, even as your kinsman did upon the other
party," answered Dick.  "Were he still living - as I vow to Heaven
I wish it! - he would praise, not blame me."

"Sir Daniel hath told me," she replied.  "He marked you at the
barricade.  Upon you, he saith, their party foundered; it was you
that won the battle.  Well, then, it was you that killed my good
Lord Risingham, as sure as though ye had strangled him.  And ye
would have me eat with you - and your hands not washed from
killing?  But Sir Daniel hath sworn your downfall.  He 'tis that
will avenge me!"

The unfortunate Dick was plunged in gloom.  Old Arblaster returned
upon his mind, and he groaned aloud.

"Do ye hold me so guilty?" he said; "you that defended me - you
that are Joanna's friend?"

"What made ye in the battle?" she retorted.  "Y' are of no party;
y' are but a lad - but legs and body, without government of wit or
counsel!  Wherefore did ye fight?  For the love of hurt, pardy!"

"Nay," cried Dick, "I know not.  But as the realm of England goes,
if that a poor gentleman fight not upon the one side, perforce he
must fight upon the other.  He may not stand alone; 'tis not in
nature."

"They that have no judgment should not draw the sword," replied the
young lady.  "Ye that fight but for a hazard, what are ye but a
butcher?  War is but noble by the cause, and y' have disgraced it."

"Madam," said the miserable Dick, "I do partly see mine error.  I
have made too much haste; I have been busy before my time.  Already
I stole a ship - thinking, I do swear it, to do well - and thereby
brought about the death of many innocent, and the grief and ruin of
a poor old man whose face this very day hath stabbed me like a
dagger.  And for this morning, I did but design to do myself
credit, and get fame to marry with, and, behold! I have brought
about the death of your dear kinsman that was good to me.  And what
besides, I know not.  For, alas! I may have set York upon the
throne, and that may be the worser cause, and may do hurt to
England.  O, madam, I do see my sin.  I am unfit for life.  I will,
for penance sake and to avoid worse evil, once I have finished this
adventure, get me to a cloister.  I will forswear Joanna and the
trade of arms.  I will be a friar, and pray for your good kinsman's
spirit all my days."

It appeared to Dick, in this extremity of his humiliation and
repentance, that the young lady had laughed.

Raising his countenance, he found her looking down upon him, in the
fire-light, with a somewhat peculiar but not unkind expression.

"Madam," he cried, thinking the laughter to have been an illusion
of his hearing, but still, from her changed looks, hoping to have
touched her heart, "madam, will not this content you?  I give up
all to undo what I have done amiss; I make heaven certain for Lord
Risingham.  And all this upon the very day that I have won my
spurs, and thought myself the happiest young gentleman on ground."

"O boy," she said - "good boy!"

And then, to the extreme surprise of Dick, she first very tenderly
wiped the tears away from his cheeks, and then, as if yielding to a
sudden impulse, threw both her arms about his neck, drew up his
face, and kissed him.  A pitiful bewilderment came over simple-
minded Dick.

"But come," she said, with great cheerfulness, "you that are a
captain, ye must eat.  Why sup ye not?"

"Dear Mistress Risingham," replied Dick, "I did but wait first upon
my prisoner; but, to say truth, penitence will no longer suffer me
to endure the sight of food.  I were better to fast, dear lady, and
to pray."

"Call me Alicia," she said; "are we not old friends?  And now,
come, I will eat with you, bit for bit and sup for sup; so if ye
eat not, neither will I; but if ye eat hearty, I will dine like a
ploughman."

So there and then she fell to; and Dick, who had an excellent
stomach, proceeded to bear her company, at first with great
reluctance, but gradually, as he entered into the spirit, with more
and more vigour and devotion:  until, at last, he forgot even to
watch his model, and most heartily repaired the expenses of his day
of labour and excitement.

"Lion-driver," she said, at length, "ye do not admire a maid in a
man's jerkin?"

The moon was now up; and they were only waiting to repose the
wearied horses.  By the moon's light, the still penitent but now
well-fed Richard beheld her looking somewhat coquettishly down upon
him.

"Madam" - he stammered, surprised at this new turn in her manners.

"Nay," she interrupted, "it skills not to deny; Joanna hath told
me, but come, Sir Lion-driver, look at me - am I so homely - come!"

And she made bright eyes at him.

"Ye are something smallish, indeed" - began Dick.

And here again she interrupted him, this time with a ringing peal
of laughter that completed his confusion and surprise.

"Smallish!" she cried.  "Nay, now, be honest as ye are bold; I am a
dwarf, or little better; but for all that - come, tell me! - for
all that, passably fair to look upon; is't not so?"

"Nay, madam, exceedingly fair," said the distressed knight,
pitifully trying to seem easy.

"And a man would be right glad to wed me?" she pursued.

"O, madam, right glad!" agreed Dick.

"Call me Alicia," said she.

"Alicia," quoth Sir Richard.

"Well, then, lion-driver," she continued, "sith that ye slew my
kinsman, and left me without stay, ye owe me, in honour, every
reparation; do ye not?"

"I do, madam," said Dick.  "Although, upon my heart, I do hold me
but partially guilty of that brave knight's blood."

"Would ye evade me?" she cried.

"Madam, not so.  I have told you; at your bidding, I will even turn
me a monk," said Richard.

"Then, in honour, ye belong to me?" she concluded.

"In honour, madam, I suppose" - began the young man.

"Go to!" she interrupted; "ye are too full of catches.  In honour
do ye belong to me, till ye have paid the evil?"

"In honour, I do," said Dick.

"Hear, then," she continued; "Ye would make but a sad friar,
methinks; and since I am to dispose of you at pleasure, I will even
take you for my husband.  Nay, now, no words!" cried she.  "They
will avail you nothing.  For see how just it is, that you who
deprived me of one home, should supply me with another.  And as for
Joanna, she will be the first, believe me, to commend the change;
for, after all, as we be dear friends, what matters it with which
of us ye wed?  Not one whit!"

"Madam," said Dick, "I will go into a cloister, an ye please to bid
me; but to wed with anyone in this big world besides Joanna Sedley
is what I will consent to neither for man's force nor yet for
lady's pleasure.  Pardon me if I speak my plain thoughts plainly;
but where a maid is very bold, a poor man must even be the bolder."

"Dick," she said, "ye sweet boy, ye must come and kiss me for that
word.  Nay, fear not, ye shall kiss me for Joanna; and when we
meet, I shall give it back to her, and say I stole it.  And as for
what ye owe me, why, dear simpleton, methinks ye were not alone in
that great battle; and even if York be on the throne, it was not
you that set him there.  But for a good, sweet, honest heart, Dick,
y' are all that; and if I could find it in my soul to envy your
Joanna anything, I would even envy her your love."


Robert Louis Stevenson