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Chapter 2 In the Fen

  • It was near six in the May morning when Dick began to ride down into the fe_pon his homeward way. The sky was all blue; the jolly wind blew loud an_teady; the windmill-sails were spinning; and the willows over all the fe_ippling and whitening like a field of corn. He had been all night in th_addle, but his heart was good and his body sound, and he rode right merrily.
  • The path went down and down into the marsh, till he lost sight of all th_eighbouring landmarks but Kettley windmill on the knoll behind him, and th_xtreme top of Tunstall Forest far before. On either hand there were grea_ields of blowing reeds and willows, pools of water shaking in the wind, an_reacherous bogs, as green as emerald, to tempt and to betray the traveller.
  • The path lay almost straight through the morass. It was already very ancient; its foundation had been laid by Roman soldiery; in the lapse of ages much o_t had sunk, and every here and there, for a few hundred yards, it la_ubmerged below the stagnant waters of the fen.
  • About a mile from Kettley, Dick came to one such break in the plain line o_auseway, where the reeds and willows grew dispersedly like little islands an_onfused the eye. The gap, besides, was more than usually long; it was a plac_here any stranger might come readily to mischief; and Dick bethought him, with something like a pang, of the lad whom he had so imperfectly directed. A_or himself, one look backward to where the windmill sails were turning blac_gainst the blue of heaven - one look forward to the high ground of Tunstal_orest, and he was sufficiently directed and held straight on, the wate_ashing to his horse’s knees, as safe as on a highway.
  • Half-way across, and when he had already sighted the path rising high and dr_pon the farther side, he was aware of a great splashing on his right, and sa_ grey horse, sunk to its belly in the mud, and still spasmodicall_truggling. Instantly, as though it had divined the neighbourhood of help, th_oor beast began to neigh most piercingly. It rolled, meanwhile, a blood-sho_ye, insane with terror; and as it sprawled wallowing in the quag, clouds o_tinging insects rose and buzzed about it in the air.
  • “Alack!” thought Dick, “can the poor lad have perished? There is his horse, for certain - a brave grey! Nay, comrade, if thou criest to me so piteously, _ill do all man can to help thee. Shalt not lie there to drown by inches!”
  • And he made ready his crossbow, and put a quarrel through the creature’s head.
  • Dick rode on after this act of rugged mercy, somewhat sobered in spirit, an_ooking closely about him for any sign of his less happy predecessor in th_ay. “I would I had dared to tell him further,” he thought; “for I fear he ha_iscarried in the slough.”
  • And just as he was so thinking, a voice cried upon his name from the causewa_ide, and, looking over his shoulder, he saw the lad’s face peering from _lump of reeds.
  • “Are ye there?” he said, reining in. “Ye lay so close among the reeds that _ad passed you by. I saw your horse bemired, and put him from his agony; which, by my sooth! an ye had been a more merciful rider, ye had don_ourself. But come forth out of your hiding. Here be none to trouble you.”
  • “Nay, good boy, I have no arms, nor skill to use them if I had,” replied th_ther, stepping forth upon the pathway.
  • “Why call me ‘boy’?” cried Dick. “Y’ are not, I trow, the elder of us twain.”
  • “Good Master Shelton,” said the other, “prithee forgive me. I have none th_east intention to offend. Rather I would in every way beseech your gentlenes_nd favour, for I am now worse bested than ever, having lost my way, my cloak, and my poor horse. To have a riding-rod and spurs, and never a horse to si_pon! And before all,” he added, looking ruefully upon his clothes - “befor_ll, to be so sorrily besmirched!”
  • “Tut!” cried Dick. “Would ye mind a ducking? Blood of wound or dust of travel - that’s a man’s adornment.”
  • “Nay, then, I like him better plain,” observed the lad. “But, prithee, ho_hall I do? Prithee, good Master Richard, help me with your good counsel. If _ome not safe to Holywood, I am undone.”
  • “Nay,” said Dick, dismounting, “I will give more than counsel. Take my horse, and I will run awhile, and when I am weary we shall change again, that so, riding and running, both may go the speedier.”
  • So the change was made, and they went forward as briskly as they durst on th_neven causeway, Dick with his hand upon the other’s knee.
  • “How call ye your name?” asked Dick.
  • “Call me John Matcham,” replied the lad.
  • “And what make ye to Holywood?” Dick continued.
  • “I seek sanctuary from a man that would oppress me,” was the answer. “The goo_bbot of Holywood is a strong pillar to the weak.”
  • “And how came ye with Sir Daniel, Master Matcham?” pursued Dick.
  • “Nay,” cried the other, “by the abuse of force! He hath taken me by violenc_rom my own place; dressed me in these weeds; ridden with me till my heart wa_ick; gibed me till I could ‘a’ wept; and when certain of my friends pursued, thinking to have me back, claps me in the rear to stand their shot! I was eve_razed in the right foot, and walk but lamely. Nay, there shall come a da_etween us; he shall smart for all!”
  • “Would ye shoot at the moon with a hand-gun?” said Dick. “’Tis a valian_night, and hath a hand of iron. An he guessed I had made or meddled with you_light, it would go sore with me.”
  • “Ay, poor boy,” returned the other, “y’ are his ward, I know it. By the sam_oken, so am I, or so he saith; or else he hath bought my marriage - I wot no_ightly which; but it is some handle to oppress me by.”
  • “Boy again!” said Dick.
  • “Nay, then, shall I call you girl, good Richard?” asked Matcham.
  • “Never a girl for me,” returned Dick. “I do abjure the crew of them!”
  • “Ye speak boyishly,” said the other. “Ye think more of them than ye pretend.”
  • “Not I,” said Dick, stoutly. “They come not in my mind. A plague of them, sa_! Give me to hunt and to fight and to feast, and to live with joll_oresters. I never heard of a maid yet that was for any service, save on_nly; and she, poor shrew, was burned for a witch and the wearing of men’_lothes in spite of nature.”
  • Master Matcham crossed himself with fervour, and appeared to pray.
  • “What make ye?” Dick inquired.
  • “I pray for her spirit,” answered the other, with a somewhat troubled voice.
  • “For a witch’s spirit?” Dick cried. “But pray for her, an ye list; she was th_est wench in Europe, was this Joan of Arc. Old Appleyard the archer ran fro_er, he said, as if she had been Mahoun. Nay, she was a brave wench.”
  • “Well, but, good Master Richard,” resumed Matcham, “an ye like maids s_ittle, y’ are no true natural man; for God made them twain by intention, an_rought true love into the world, to be man’s hope and woman’s comfort.”
  • “Faugh!” said Dick. “Y’ are a milk-sopping baby, so to harp on women. An y_hink I be no true man, get down upon the path, and whether at fists, back- sword, or bow and arrow, I will prove my manhood on your body.”
  • “Nay, I am no fighter,” said Matcham, eagerly. “I mean no tittle of offence. _eant but pleasantry. And if I talk of women, it is because I heard ye were t_arry.”
  • “I to marry!” Dick exclaimed. “Well, it is the first I hear of it. And wit_hom was I to marry?”
  • “One Joan Sedley,” replied Matcham, colouring. “It was Sir Daniel’s doing; h_ath money to gain upon both sides; and, indeed, I have heard the poor wenc_emoaning herself pitifully of the match. It seems she is of your mind, o_lse distasted to the bridegroom.”
  • “Well! marriage is like death, it comes to all,” said Dick, with resignation.
  • “And she bemoaned herself? I pray ye now, see there how shuttle-witted ar_hese girls: to bemoan herself before that she had seen me! Do I bemoa_yself? Not I. An I be to marry, I will marry dry-eyed! But if ye know her, prithee, of what favour is she? fair or foul? And is she shrewish o_leasant?”
  • “Nay, what matters it?” said Matcham. “An y’ are to marry, ye can but marry.
  • What matters foul or fair? These be but toys. Y’ are no milksop, Maste_ichard; ye will wed with dry eyes, anyhow.”
  • “It is well said,” replied Shelton. “Little I reck.”
  • “Your lady wife is like to have a pleasant lord,” said Matcham.
  • “She shall have the lord Heaven made her for,” returned Dick. “It trow ther_e worse as well as better.”
  • “Ah, the poor wench!” cried the other.
  • “And why so poor?” asked Dick.
  • “To wed a man of wood,” replied his companion. “O me, for a wooden husband!”
  • “I think I be a man of wood, indeed,” said Dick, “to trudge afoot the whil_ou ride my horse; but it is good wood, I trow.”
  • “Good Dick, forgive me,” cried the other. “Nay, y’ are the best heart i_ngland; I but laughed. Forgive me now, sweet Dick.”
  • “Nay, no fool words,” returned Dick, a little embarrassed by his companion’_armth. “No harm is done. I am not touchy, praise the saints.”
  • And at that moment the wind, which was blowing straight behind them as the_ent, brought them the rough flourish of Sir Daniel’s trumpeter.
  • “Hark!” said Dick, “the tucket soundeth.”
  • “Ay,” said Matcham, “they have found my flight, and now I am unhorsed!” and h_ecame pale as death.
  • “Nay, what cheer!” returned Dick. “Y’ have a long start, and we are near th_erry. And it is I, methinks, that am unhorsed.”
  • “Alack, I shall be taken!” cried the fugitive. “Dick, kind Dick, beseech y_elp me but a little!”
  • “Why, now, what aileth thee?” said Dick. “Methinks I help you very patently.
  • But my heart is sorry for so spiritless a fellow! And see ye here, Joh_atcham - sith John Matcham is your name - I, Richard Shelton, tide wha_etideth, come what may, will see you safe in Holywood. The saints so do to m_gain if I default you. Come, pick me up a good heart, Sir White-face. The wa_etters here; spur me the horse. Go faster! faster! Nay, mind not for me; _an run like a deer.”
  • So, with the horse trotting hard, and Dick running easily alongside, the_rossed the remainder of the fen, and came out upon the banks of the river b_he ferryman’s hut.