Chapter 6 Night in the Woods (concluded): Dick and Joan
The horses had by this time finished the small store of provender, and full_reathed from their fatigues. At Dick’s command, the fire was smothered i_now; and while his men got once more wearily to saddle, he himself, remembering, somewhat late, true woodland caution, chose a tall oak and nimbl_lambered to the topmost fork. Hence he could look far abroad on the moonli_nd snow-paven forest. On the south-west, dark against the horizon, stoo_hose upland, heathy quarters where he and Joanna had met with the terrifyin_isadventure of the leper. And there his eye was caught by a spot of rudd_rightness no bigger than a needle’s eye.
He blamed himself sharply for his previous neglect. Were that, as it appeare_o be, the shining of Sir Daniel’s camp-fire, he should long ago have seen an_arched for it; above all, he should, for no consideration, have announced hi_eighbourhood by lighting a fire of his own. But now he must no longe_quander valuable hours. The direct way to the uplands was about two miles i_ength; but it was crossed by a very deep, precipitous dingle, impassable t_ounted men; and for the sake of speed, it seemed to Dick advisable to deser_he horses and attempt the adventure on foot.
Ten men were left to guard the horses; signals were agreed upon by which the_ould communicate in case of need; and Dick set forth at the head of th_emainder, Alicia Risingham walking stoutly by his side.
The men had freed themselves of heavy armour, and left behind their lances; and they now marched with a very good spirit in the frozen snow, and under th_xhilarating lustre of the moon. The descent into the dingle, where a strea_trained sobbing through the snow and ice, was effected with silence an_rder; and on the further side, being then within a short half mile of wher_ick had seen the glimmer of the fire, the party halted to breathe before th_ttack.
In the vast silence of the wood, the lightest sounds were audible from far; and Alicia, who was keen of hearing, held up her finger warningly and stoope_o listen. All followed her example; but besides the groans of the choke_rook in the dingle close behind, and the barking of a fox at a distance o_any miles among the forest, to Dick’s acutest hearkening, not a breath wa_udible.
“But yet, for sure, I heard the clash of harness,” whispered Alicia.
“Madam,” returned Dick, who was more afraid of that young lady than of te_tout warriors, “I would not hint ye were mistaken; but it might well hav_ome from either of the camps.”
“It came not thence. It came from westward,” she declared.
“It may be what it will,” returned Dick; “and it must be as heaven please.
Reck we not a jot, but push on the livelier, and put it to the touch. Up, friends - enough breathed.”
As they advanced, the snow became more and more trampled with hoof-marks, an_t was plain that they were drawing near to the encampment of a considerabl_orce of mounted men. Presently they could see the smoke pouring from amon_he trees, ruddily coloured on its lower edge and scattering bright sparks.
And here, pursuant to Dick’s orders, his men began to open out, creepin_tealthily in the covert, to surround on every side the camp of thei_pponents. He himself, placing Alicia in the shelter of a bulky oak, stol_traight forth in the direction of the fire.
At last, through an opening of the wood, his eye embraced the scene of th_ncampment. The fire had been built upon a heathy hummock of the ground, surrounded on three sides by thicket, and it now burned very strong, roarin_loud and brandishing flames. Around it there sat not quite a dozen people, warmly cloaked; but though the neighbouring snow was trampled down as by _egiment, Dick looked in vain for any horse. He began to have a terribl_isgiving that he was out-manoeuvred. At the same time, in a tall man with _teel salet, who was spreading his hands before the blaze, he recognised hi_ld friend and still kindly enemy, Bennet Hatch; and in two others, sitting _ittle back, he made out, even in their male disguise, Joanna Sedley and Si_aniel’s wife.
“Well,” thought he to himself, “even if I lose my horses, let me get m_oanna, and why should I complain?”
And then, from the further side of the encampment, there came a littl_histle, announcing that his men had joined, and the investment was complete.
Bennet, at the sound, started to his feet; but ere he had time to spring upo_is arms, Dick hailed him.
“Bennet,” he said - “Bennet, old friend, yield ye. Ye will but spill men’_ives in vain, if ye resist.”
“’Tis Master Shelton, by St. Barbary!” cried Hatch. “Yield me? Ye ask much.
What force have ye?”
“I tell you, Bennet, ye are both outnumbered and begirt,” said Dick. “Caesa_nd Charlemagne would cry for quarter. I have two score men at my whistle, an_ith one shoot of arrows I could answer for you all.”
“Master Dick,” said Bennet, “it goes against my heart; but I must do my duty.
The saints help you!” And therewith he raised a little tucket to his mouth an_ound a rousing call.
Then followed a moment of confusion; for while Dick, fearing for the ladies, still hesitated to give the word to shoot, Hatch’s little band sprang to thei_eapons and formed back to back as for a fierce resistance. In the hurry o_heir change of place, Joanna sprang from her seat and ran like an arrow t_er lover’s side.
“Here, Dick!” she cried, as she clasped his hand in hers.
But Dick still stood irresolute; he was yet young to the more deplorabl_ecessities of war, and the thought of old Lady Brackley checked the comman_pon his tongue. His own men became restive. Some of them cried on him b_ame; others, of their own accord, began to shoot; and at the first discharg_oor Bennet bit the dust. Then Dick awoke.
“On!” he cried. “Shoot, boys, and keep to cover. England and York!”
But just then the dull beat of many horses on the snow suddenly arose in th_ollow ear of the night, and, with incredible swiftness, drew nearer an_welled louder. At the same time, answering tuckets repeated and repeate_atch’s call.
“Rally, rally!” cried Dick. “Rally upon me! Rally for your lives!”
But his men - afoot, scattered, taken in the hour when they had counted on a_asy triumph - began instead to give ground severally, and either stoo_avering or dispersed into the thickets. And when the first of the horseme_ame charging through the open avenues and fiercely riding their steeds int_he underwood, a few stragglers were overthrown or speared among the brush, but the bulk of Dick’s command had simply melted at the rumour of thei_oming.
Dick stood for a moment, bitterly recognising the fruits of his precipitat_nd unwise valour. Sir Daniel had seen the fire; he had moved out with hi_ain force, whether to attack his pursuers or to take them in the rear if the_hould venture the assault. His had been throughout the part of a sagaciou_aptain; Dick’s the conduct of an eager boy. And here was the young knight, his sweetheart, indeed, holding him tightly by the hand, but otherwise alone, his whole command of men and horses dispersed in the night and the wid_orest, like a paper of pins in a bay barn.
“The saints enlighten me!” he thought. “It is well I was knighted for thi_orning’s matter; this doth me little honour.”
And thereupon, still holding Joanna, he began to run.
The silence of the night was now shattered by the shouts of the men o_unstall, as they galloped hither and thither, hunting fugitives; and Dic_roke boldly through the underwood and ran straight before him like a deer.
The silver clearness of the moon upon the open snow increased, by contrast, the obscurity of the thickets; and the extreme dispersion of the vanquishe_ed the pursuers into wildly divergent paths. Hence, in but a little while, Dick and Joanna paused, in a close covert, and heard the sounds of th_ursuit, scattering abroad, indeed, in all directions, but yet faintin_lready in the distance.
“An I had but kept a reserve of them together,” Dick cried, bitterly, “I coul_ave turned the tables yet! Well, we live and learn; next time it shall g_etter, by the rood.”
“Nay, Dick,” said Joanna, “what matters it? Here we are together once again.”
He looked at her, and there she was - John Matcham, as of yore, in hose an_oublet. But now he knew her; now, even in that ungainly dress, she smile_pon him, bright with love; and his heart was transported with joy.
“Sweetheart,” he said, “if ye forgive this blunderer, what care I? Make w_irect for Holywood; there lieth your good guardian and my better friend, Lor_oxham. There shall we be wed; and whether poor or wealthy, famous or unknown, what, matters it? This day, dear love, I won my spurs; I was commended b_reat men for my valour; I thought myself the goodliest man of war in al_road England. Then, first, I fell out of my favour with the great; and no_ave I been well thrashed, and clean lost my soldiers. There was a downfal_or conceit! But, dear, I care not - dear, if ye still love me and will wed, _ould have my knighthood done away, and mind it not a jot.”
“My Dick!” she cried. “And did they knight you?”
“Ay, dear, ye are my lady now,” he answered, fondly; “or ye shall, ere noo_o-morrow - will ye not?”
“That will I, Dick, with a glad heart,” she answered.
“Ay, sir? Methought ye were to be a monk!” said a voice in their ears.
“Alicia!” cried Joanna.
“Even so,” replied the young lady, coming forward. “Alicia, whom ye left fo_ead, and whom your lion-driver found, and brought to life again, and, by m_ooth, made love to, if ye want to know!”
“I’ll not believe it,” cried Joanna. “Dick!”
“Dick!” mimicked Alicia. “Dick, indeed! Ay, fair sir, and ye desert poo_amsels in distress,” she continued, turning to the young knight. “Ye leav_hem planted behind oaks. But they say true \- the age of chivalry is dead.”
“Madam,” cried Dick, in despair, “upon my soul I had forgotten you outright.
Madam, ye must try to pardon me. Ye see, I had new found Joanna!”
“I did not suppose that ye had done it o’ purpose,” she retorted. “But I wil_e cruelly avenged. I will tell a secret to my Lady Shelton - she that is t_e,” she added, curtseying. “Joanna,” she continued, “I believe, upon my soul, your sweetheart is a bold fellow in a fight, but he is, let me tell yo_lainly, the softest-hearted simpleton in England. Go to - ye may do you_leasure with him! And now, fool children, first kiss me, either one of you, for luck and kindness; and then kiss each other just one minute by the glass, and not one second longer; and then let us all three set forth for Holywood a_ast as we can stir; for these woods, methinks, are full of peril an_xceeding cold.”
“But did my Dick make love to you?” asked Joanna, clinging to her sweetheart’_ide.
“Nay, fool girl,” returned Alicia; “it was I made love to him. I offered t_arry him, indeed; but he bade me go marry with my likes. These were hi_ords. Nay, that I will say: he is more plain than pleasant. But now, children, for the sake of sense, set forward. Shall we go once more over th_ingle, or push straight for Holywood?”
“Why,” said Dick, “I would like dearly to get upon a horse; for I have bee_ore mauled and beaten, one way and another, these last days, and my poor bod_s one bruise. But how think ye? If the men, upon the alarm of the fighting, had fled away, we should have gone about for nothing. ’Tis but some thre_hort miles to Holywood direct; the bell hath not beat nine; the snow i_retty firm to walk upon, the moon clear; how if we went even as we are?”
“Agreed,” cried Alicia; but Joanna only pressed upon Dick’s arm.
Forth, then, they went, through open leafless groves and down snow-cla_lleys, under the white face of the winter moon; Dick and Joanna walking han_n hand and in a heaven of pleasure; and their light-minded companion, her ow_ereavements heartily forgotten, followed a pace or two behind, now rallyin_hem upon their silence, and now drawing happy pictures of their future an_nited lives.
Still, indeed, in the distance of the wood, the riders of Tunstall might b_eard urging their pursuit; and from time to time cries or the clash of stee_nnounced the shock of enemies. But in these young folk, bred among the alarm_f war, and fresh from such a multiplicity of dangers, neither fear nor pit_ould be lightly wakened. Content to find the sounds still drawing farther an_arther away, they gave up their hearts to the enjoyment of the hour, walkin_lready, as Alicia put it, in a wedding procession; and neither the rud_olitude of the forest, nor the cold of the freezing night, had any force t_hadow or distract their happiness.
At length, from a rising hill, they looked below them on the dell of Holywood.
The great windows of the forest abbey shone with torch and candle; its hig_innacles and spires arose very clear and silent, and the gold rood upon th_opmost summit glittered brightly in the moon. All about it, in the ope_lade, camp-fires were burning, and the ground was thick with huts; and acros_he midst of the picture the frozen river curved.
“By the mass,” said Richard, “there are Lord Foxham’s fellows still encamped.
The messenger hath certainly miscarried. Well, then, so better. We have powe_t hand to face Sir Daniel.”
But if Lord Foxham’s men still lay encamped in the long holm at Holywood, i_as from a different reason from the one supposed by Dick. They had marched, indeed, for Shoreby; but ere they were half way thither, a second messenge_et them, and bade them return to their morning’s camp, to bar the roa_gainst Lancastrian fugitives, and to be so much nearer to the main army o_ork. For Richard of Gloucester, having finished the battle and stamped ou_is foes in that district, was already on the march to rejoin his brother; an_ot long after the return of my Lord Foxham’s retainers, Crookback himsel_rew rein before the abbey door. It was in honour of this august visitor tha_he windows shone with lights; and at the hour of Dick’s arrival with hi_weetheart and her friend, the whole ducal party was being entertained in th_efectory with the splendour of that powerful and luxurious monastery.
Dick, not quite with his good will, was brought before them. Gloucester, sic_ith fatigue, sat leaning upon one hand his white and terrifying countenance; Lord Foxham, half recovered from his wound, was in a place of honour on hi_eft.
“How, sir?” asked Richard. “Have ye brought me Sir Daniel’s head?”
“My lord duke,” replied Dick, stoutly enough, but with a qualm at heart, “_ave not even the good fortune to return with my command. I have been, s_lease your grace, well beaten.”
Gloucester looked upon him with a formidable frown.
“I gave you fifty lances, sir,” he said.
“My lord duke, I had but fifty men-at-arms,” replied the young knight.
“How is this?” said Gloucester. “He did ask me fifty lances.”
“May it please your grace,” replied Catesby, smoothly, “for a pursuit we gav_im but the horsemen.”
“It is well,” replied Richard, adding, “Shelton, ye may go.”
“Stay!” said Lord Foxham. “This young man likewise had a charge from me. I_ay be he hath better sped. Say, Master Shelton, have ye found the maid?”
“I praise the saints, my lord,” said Dick, “she is in this house.”
“Is it even so? Well, then, my lord the duke,” resumed Lord Foxham, “with you_ood will, to-morrow, before the army march, I do propose a marriage. Thi_oung squire - ”
“Young knight,” interrupted Catesby.
“Say ye so, Sir William?” cried Lord Foxham.
“I did myself, and for good service, dub him knight,” said Gloucester. “H_ath twice manfully served me. It is not valour of hands, it is a man’s min_f iron, that he lacks. He will not rise, Lord Foxham. ’Tis a fellow that wil_ight indeed bravely in a mellay, but hath a capon’s heart. Howbeit, if he i_o marry, marry him in the name of Mary, and be done!”
“Nay, he is a brave lad - I know it,” said Lord Foxham. “Content ye, then, Si_ichard. I have compounded this affair with Master Hamley, and to-morrow y_hall wed.”
Whereupon Dick judged it prudent to withdraw; but he was not yet clear of th_efectory, when a man, but newly alighted at the gate, came running fou_tairs at a bound, and, brushing through the abbey servants, threw himself o_ne knee before the duke.
“Victory, my lord,” he cried.
And before Dick had got to the chamber set apart for him as Lord Foxham’_uest, the troops in the holm were cheering around their fires; for upon tha_ame day, not twenty miles away, a second crushing blow had been dealt to th_ower of Lancaster.