by Robert Louis Stevenson
Saranac Lake, April 8, 1888.
Note: Look up difficult words at The Free Dictionary.
The moans of the wounded baron blended with the wailing of the ship’s dog. The poor animal, whether he was merely sick at heart to be separated from his friends, or whether he indeed recognized some peril in the labouring of the ship, raised his cries, like minute-guns, above the roar of wave and weather; and the more superstitious of the men heard, in these sounds, the knell of the Good Hope.
Lord Foxham had been laid in a berth upon a fur cloak. A little lamp burned dim before the Virgin in the bulkhead, and by its glimmer Dick could see the pale countenance and hollow eyes of the hurt man.
“I am sore hurt,” said he. “Come near to my side, young Shelton; let there be one by me who, at least, is gentle born; for after having lived nobly and richly all the days of my life, this is a sad pass that I should get my hurt in a little ferreting skirmish, and die here, in a foul, cold ship upon the sea, among broken men and churls.”
“No, my lord,” said Dick, “I pray rather to the saints that you will recover of your wounds, and come soon and sound ashore.”
“How!” demanded his lordship. “Come sound ashore? There is, then, a question of it?”
“The ship labours—the sea is grievous and contrary,” replied the lad; “and by what I can learn of my fellow that steers us, we shall do well, indeed, if we come dryshod to land.”
“Ha!” said the baron, gloomily, “thus shall every terror attend upon the passage of my soul! Sir, pray rather to live hard, that you may die easy, than to be fooled and fluted all through life, as to the pipe and tabor, and, in the last hour, be plunged among misfortunes! However, I have that upon my mind that must not be delayed. We have no priest aboard?”
“None,” replied Dick.
“Here, then, to my secular interests,” resumed Lord Foxham: “you must be as good a friend to me dead, as I found you a gallant enemy when I was living. I fall in an evil hour for me, for England, and for them that trusted me. My men are being brought by Hamley—he that was your rival; they will rendezvous in the long holm at Holywood; this ring from off my finger will prove that you to represent my orders; and I shall write, besides, two words upon this paper, bidding Hamley yield to you the damsel. Will he obey? I know not.”
“But, my lord, what orders?” inquired Dick.
“Yes,” answered the baron, “yes—the orders;” and he looked upon Dick with hesitation.
“Are you Lancaster or York?” he asked, at length.
“I shame to say it,” answered Dick, “I can scarce clearly answer. But so much I think is certain: since I serve with Ellis Duckworth, I serve the house of York. Well, if that be so, I declare for York.”
“It is well,” returned the other; “it is exceeding well. For, truly, had you said Lancaster, I do not know for the world what I would had done. But since you are for York, follow me. I came hither but to watch these lords at Shoreby, while my excellent young lord, Richard of Gloucester, prepares a sufficient force to fall upon and scatter them. I have made notes of their strength, what watch they keep, and how they lie; and these I was to deliver to my young lord on Sunday, an hour before noon, at St. Bride’s Cross beside the forest. This meeting I am not likely to keep, but I pray you, of courtesy, to keep it in my stead; and see that not pleasure, nor pain, tempest, wound, nor pestilence withhold you from the hour and place, for the welfare of England lies upon this meeting.”
“I do soberly take this up on me,” said Dick. “In so far as in me lies, your purpose shall be done.”
“It is good,” said the wounded man. “My lord duke shall order you farther, and if you obey him with spirit and good will, then is your fortune made. Bring the lamp a little closer until I write these words for you.”
He wrote a note “to his worshipful kinsman, Sir John Hamley;” and then a second, which he-left without external superscripture.
“This is for the duke,” he said. “The word is ‘England and Edward,’ and the counter, ‘England and York.’”
“And Joanna, my lord?” asked Dick.
“You must get Joanna how you can,” replied the baron. “I have named you for my choice in both these letters; but you must get her for yourself, boy. I have tried, as you see here before you, and have lost my life. More could no man do.”
By this time the wounded man began to be very weary; and Dick, putting the precious papers in his bosom, bade him be of good cheer, and left him to repose.
The day was beginning to break, cold and blue, with flying squalls of snow. Close under the lee of the Good Hope, the coast lay in alternate rocky headlands and sandy bays; and further inland the wooded hill-tops of Tunstall showed along the sky. Both the wind and the sea had gone down; but the vessel wallowed deep, and scarce rose upon the waves.
Lawless was still fixed at the rudder; and by this time nearly all the men had crawled on deck, and were now gazing, with blank faces, upon the inhospitable coast.
“Are we going ashore?” asked Dick.
“Yes,” said Lawless, “unless we get first to the bottom.”
And just then the ship rose so languidly to meet a sea, and the water weltered so loudly in her hold, that Dick involuntarily seized the steersman by the arm.
“By the mass!” cried Dick, as the bows of the Good Hope reappeared above the foam, “I thought we had foundered, indeed; my heart was at my throat.”
In the waist, Greensheve, Hawksley, and the better men of both companies were busy breaking up the deck to build a raft; and to these Dick joined himself, working the harder to drown the memory of his predicament. But, even as he worked, every sea that struck the poor ship, and every one of her dull lurches, as she tumbled wallowing among the waves, recalled him with a horrid pang to the immediate proximity of death.
Presently, looking up from his work, he saw that they were close in below a promontory; a piece of ruinous cliff, against the base of which the sea broke white and heavy, almost overplumbed the deck; and, above that, again, a house appeared, crowning a treeless grazing ground.
Inside the bay the seas ran gayly, raised the Good Hope upon their foam-flecked shoulders, carried her beyond the control of the steersman, and in a moment dropped her, with a great concussion, on the sand, and began to break over her half-mast high, and roll her to and fro. Another great wave followed, raised her again, and carried her yet farther in; and then a third succeeded, and left her far inshore of the more dangerous breakers, wedged upon a bank.
“Now, boys,” cried Lawless, “the saints have had a care of us, indeed. The tide ebbs; let us but sit down and drink a cup of wine, and before half an hour you may all march me ashore as safe as on a bridge.”
A barrel was broached, and, sitting in what shelter they could find from the flying snow and spray, the shipwrecked company handed the cup around, and sought to warm their bodies and restore their spirits.
Dick, meanwhile, returned to Lord Foxham, who lay in great perplexity and fear, the floor of his cabin washing knee-deep in water, and the lamp, which had been his only light, broken and extinguished by the violence of the blow.
“My lord,” said young Shelton, “fear not at all; the saints are plainly for us; the seas have cast us high upon a shoal, and as soon as the tide has somewhat ebbed, we may walk ashore upon our feet.”
It was nearly an hour before the vessel was sufficiently deserted by the ebbing sea; and they could set out for the land, which appeared dimly before them through a veil of driving snow.
Upon a hillock on one side of their way a party of men lay huddled together, suspiciously observing the movements of the new arrivals.
“They might draw near and offer us some comfort,” Dick remarked.
“Well, if they don’t come to us, let us go to them,” said Hawksley. “The sooner we come to a good fire and a dry bed the better for my poor lord.”
But they had not moved far in the direction of the hillock, before the men, with one consent, rose suddenly to their feet, and poured a flight of well-directed arrows on the shipwrecked company.
“Back! back!” cried his lordship. “Beware, in Heaven’s name, that you reply not.”
“True,” cried Greensheve, pulling an arrow from his leather jack. “We are in no posture to fight, it is certain, being drenching wet, dog-weary, and three-parts frozen; but, for the love of old England, what is wrong with them to shoot this cruelly on their poor country people in distress?”
“They take us to be French pirates,” answered Lord Foxham. “In these most troublesome and degenerate days we cannot keep our own shores of England; but our old enemies, whom we once chased on sea and land, do now range at pleasure, robbing and slaughtering and burning. It is the pity and reproach of this poor land.”
The men upon the hillock lay, closely observing them, while they trailed upward from the beach and wound inland among desolate sand-hills; for a mile or so they even hung upon the rear of the march, ready, at a sign, to pour another volley on the weary and dispirited fugitives; and it was only when, striking at length upon a firm high-road, Dick began to call his men to some more martial order, that these jealous guardians of the coast of England silently disappeared among the snow. They had done what they desired; they had protected their own homes and farms, their own families and cattle; and their private interest being thus secured, it mattered not the weight of a straw to any one of them, although the Frenchmen should carry blood and fire to every other parish in the realm of England.